Suspicious letter investigated in Norwich

Buy Photo Tim Cook/The Day A HazMat team from the Norwich Fire Department prepares to enter the Norwich Police Station to remove a suspicious package Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.

Norwich — The Bulletin newspaper and the Norwich Police Department were under lockdown for several hours Wednesday after the newspaper received a suspicious letter and took it to the police station.

Bulletin Publisher Chris Voccio said a reporter Wednesday morning received the letter, which claimed that the writer had MRSA and was not able to get medical treatment.

Voccio said the letter writer also made some threats that made the reporter uncomfortable.

Voccio, who was quarantined at the police station, said he thought the threats were made from a "crackpot," but after conferring within the newspaper, he decided to take the letter to the station. He did so at about 11 a.m.

Police also said the letter writer indicated he planned to spread the infection.

In addition to Voccio, a police officer and a civilian employee were also quarantined in the lobby of the police station, police said.

Voccio said he didn't expect the letter to trigger the response that it did.

"I understand that it is part of their job," he said.

Norwich City Fire Chief Ken Scandariato said the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, American Ambulance, state police, FBI, U.S. postal inspector and the Uncas Health District also responded to the incident.

The Bulletin offices on Franklin Street were closed for about two hours at the request of Scandariato, who said he considered the entire Bulletin property a second "hot zone" because of the fact that the letter was in the building and had potentially circulated inside the building. Employees were not allowed in or out during that time, Scandariato said.

"It was done as a precaution until we had a better understanding of what we were dealing with," Scandariato said.

The letter was not delivered to the Bulletin by mail, the DEEP said.

A DEEP investigator put on a tan hazardous materials suit with an oxygen tank outside the police station before entering the building. Yellow tape closed off access to the main entrance to the station on Thames Street.

About 15 minutes later, the DEEP employee was spotted holding a clear plastic container with what appeared to be a letter.

Police said the letter was covered in a liquid of some sort.

The police department was reopened shortly before 2 p.m., nearly three hours after the letter was brought there.

Scandariato said the city's Emergency Operation Center at Norwich Public Utilities was opened as a precaution in the event that dispatching at the police station would no longer be possible. Dispatching services, however, were not affected during the lockdown.

Scandariato said they know who the letter writer is. He said the letter was taken to a state laboratory for analysis. He said it could take anywhere from 24 hours to five days to determine whether it contained a biological hazard.

Police declined to say whether the incident would lead to an arrest. Outside the lobby, a printout of how to spot and treat MRSA was left on the counter.

According to the Mayo Clinic, MRSA is caused by a strain of staph bacteria that's become resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat ordinary staph infections. Most MRSA infections occur in people who've been in hospitals or other health care settings.

Scandariato said no one was injured.

"This was a well-coordinated response," he said. "We were able to contain the situation in a safe and efficient manner."

i.larraneta@theday.com

Staff writer Greg Smith contributed to this report.

Personnel from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection don hazardous material suits outside of the Police Department in Norwich.
Buy Photo Izaskun E. Larraņeta/The Day Personnel from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection don hazardous material suits outside of the Police Department in Norwich.
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