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More UCI staff get unknown powder

Two more university employees report letters with same message — ‘Black Death’ — and white powder as contents. No injuries or illnesses have been reported.

January 05, 2010|By Joseph Serna

Two more female UC Irvine employees received letters Tuesday reading “Black Death” with an envelope containing a mysterious white powder, campus officials said.

Diana Tien, an undergraduate counselor in the office of the dean in the school of information and computer science, opened the letter about 11 a.m., UCI officials said.

“It was a letter identical in almost every way to yesterday’s letters,” said university spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon.

A fourth letter was discovered later Tuesday, this one addressed to Benedicte Shipley, assistant dean of biological sciences. Tests determined the powder found inside was harmless, as with the other letters.


All four letters were postmarked from Idaho.

Professor Nancy da Silva, from the chemical engineering and materials sciences department, received one of the letters Monday morning. Cynthia Feliciano, an assistant professor in Chicano and Latino studies, got the second letter Monday afternoon.

Capt. Greg McKeown of the Orange County Fire Authority said up to 10 people were in the area when the envelopes were opened. No one has reported any injuries or illnesses, he said.

In all four cases, campus authorities shut down the floor in the vicinity of the letters and turned off the air conditioning and heaters until the area was clear, Lawhon said. In the first three cases, operations continued after a few hours, she said.

University officials are working with the FBI and local authorities to determine who sent the letters and why they were addressed to those employees. So far, the only similarity among the four employees is that all are women, Lawhon said.

FBI officials said they automatically respond to any incident where powder is sent via mail. Today UCI’s Distribution and Document Management department is providing campus employees with trash bags into which they can put any letters or packages deemed suspicious.

UCI police will be on hand when the suspicious packages are opened, and if there is nothing malicious about them, they will be resealed and sent on to the rightful recipient, school officials said.

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