Man Pleads Guilty for Sending Threatening Cards Containing Toxic White Powder to Former Colleagues

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A man has pleaded guilty to eight counts of mailing threatening communications. The Klamath Falls man is being accused of mailing Christmas cards with toxic pesticide powder to former coworkers.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, Kelly Michael Burns, 71, sent cards to former coworkers containing a white powdered pesticide threatened to be anthrax. He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release.

Extensive Physical Decontamination

Court documents show that Burns mailed four Christmas cards around December 19, 2019 to his former workplace addressed to four coworkers with a white powder identified as carbaryl, a known pesticide toxic to humans, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement. The cards contained violent threats and obscenities, the documents said. Burns wrote “Merry Anthrax” on the cards, threatening the powder to be anthrax.

Three people at Burns’ former workplace were exposed and had to undergo an extensive physical decontamination process and receive a high-dose antibiotic. One of the victims was ten weeks pregnant when she was exposed. The company building was closed for further decontamination. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and court documents did not identify the company’s name, but other news outlets say it was a welding company that Burns worked at until April 2019.

On February 13, 2020, Burns mailed cards with carbaryl to the same four recipients, including more violent statements and threats toward the recipients’ families, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. FBI handwriting analysts matched the handwriting on the cards mailed in December to Burns’ handwriting from a job application and tax documents.

Weapon of Biological War or Terrorism

A search of Burns’ residence found handwritten notes in which he threatened to kill a former coworker, sabotage his former workplace and conduct a drive-by shooting. Burns was first charged last March 5 with mailing threatening communications and false information or hoaxes. He was then charged last month with eight counts of mailing threatening communications and will be sentenced May 6 before U.S. District Court Judge Michael J. McShane in Portland.

As part of the plea agreement, Burns agreed to pay restitution to his victims as identified by the government before sentencing in the full amount of the victims’ losses as determined by the court.

Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax most commonly occurs in wild and domestic animals like cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and antelopes. It can also occur in humans when exposed to infected animals or tissue from infected animals or following a release of anthrax spores as a weapon of biological war or terrorism.

In October 2001, bioterrorism attacks in the U.S. saw terrorists carry out an anthrax attack via the US Postal Service letters. Letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several news media offices and two Democratic U.S. Senators (Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy), killing five people and infecting 17 others. 

Fatal In 75% of Cases

People were infected with anthrax after inhaling thousands of airborne spores or touching the powder form contained in letters. How is it transmitted? People can be infected with anthrax when spores get into the body in three different ways – inhalation, cutaneous and intestinal. Inhalation anthrax occurs when the tiny spores are breathed in and settles in the lung and is the most dangerous form of anthrax as it is fatal in 75% of cases. 

Crucially, you cannot catch anthrax from another person how you might catch a cold or the flu. Humans also can become infected with anthrax by handling products from infected animals. Cutaneous (skin) anthrax happens when spores enter the body through minor cuts or abrasions on the skin. Furthermore, anthrax’s intestinal form usually follows the consumption of raw or undercooked contaminated meat that has been contaminated. 

What are the effects of an attack? 

Once it gets into the body, the spores can be activated and become anthrax bacteria. The disease symptoms vary depending on how the disease was contracted but usually occur within seven days. The anthrax symptoms can take anywhere from one day to more than two months to appear, depending on the severity of the infection. Anthrax can only be identified through laboratory testing, and antibiotic treatment must be done as early as possible; otherwise, the disease can be fatal.

 

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