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Monday, February 6, 2023


Oct. 18, 2001 – "You've got mail!" has been welcome news since long before e-mail appropriated it as a slogan. But now, that notice can bring chills of fear down the spine.
Such was the case with a University of the Virgin Islands staff member on the St. Thomas campus Wednesday evening. In his office, he found what he identified as a suspicious envelope delivered to the campus via the U.S. Postal Service and to his office from the UVI mailroom.
The envelope met several criteria cited in recent media alerts regarding U.S. mail. The address and return address were handwritten. It bore the notation "Open immediately." The return address and the postmark were of different locales.
The intended recipient placed the unopened envelope in a plastic bag, called campus security and left the work area, according to UVI's acting public relations director, Patrice Johnson. Security personnel notified the police, who responded promptly. The decision was made to secure the work area for the night.
On Thursday morning, V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency personnel removed the item, and UVI officials were left to await anxiously the answers to their questions: Where will it go for testing? How long will results take? Will campus personnel need to be tested? Staff at the office of Roy Watlington, chancellor of the St. Thomas campus, will be receiving that information as it becomes available, Johnson said Thursday.
UVI employees in the immediate work area and mailroom staff were notified at home Wednesday evening of the suspect envelope. They were advised to bathe, wash their hair and wash their hands frequently. On Thursday morning, Watlington made an informational announcement via the internal Audix telephone system that was transmitted to all St. Thomas and St. Croix campus offices.
"There's no reason to panic," the chancellor said. He urged students, faculty and staff to "remain calm and stay tuned to information from the public media. Be cautious and alert." The majority of cases of mail suspected to contain anthrax powder in the past few days nationwide have been hoaxes.
On Thursday, the UVI mailroom remained open, with both campus and external mail being sorted and delivered, Johnson said. The mailroom staff members were advised on the handling and examining of mail, and gloves and masks were provided for them.
On Monday afternoon, essential personnel on both campuses had met to evaluate disaster and safety plans currently in place. The meeting was prompted by an advisory from the new federal Office of Homeland Security that funding would be available for the preparation of current safety plans. Watlington said UVI personnel had sought to identify areas from which threats might be expected. Mail, of course, was one of them.
A source at VITEMA reported Thursday afternoon that the item had been turned over to the Planning and Natural Resources Department. It was "received into DPNR custody, bagged in plastic and put into a special container," DPNR Commissioner Dean Plaskett said late Thursday afternoon. He said that DPNR's hazardous materials team, "which has been trained in weapons of mass warfare, has examined it and determined it does not fall within the profile."
The team will do a follow-up, which will include investigating a telephone number written on the back of the envelope, Plaskett said. Then, because the intended recipient does not wish to claim the piece of mail, he said, "it will be destroyed."

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