Federal Agents Investigate NKU Smallpox Threat

Federal and campus law enforcement agents responded to a smallpox threat at Northern Kentucky University on Sept. 28 and ultimately determined it was a hoax. However, the investigation on what prompted the scare is ongoing and the perpetrators could face imprisonment under federal felony charges.

An envelope addressed to the anthropology department, wrapped in plastic tape and labeled “smallpox” prompted mail room employees to contact police. NKU Police photographed the envelope and contacted the Postal Inspectors to respond.

An inspector responded and X-rayed the package and determined that there was nothing dangerous inside. The inspector then opened the package and found a clipping from the “New York Times”.

“There were no threats of any kind inside,” said Lisa Fitzpatrick, public information officer for the Postal Inspectors. “It was determined to be non-hazardous.”

The NKU police report said that “(the clipping) wasn’t any particular article outlining some sort of cause. It appears to have just been a random page ripped in half, then placed inside the envelope.”

The envelope had multiple words written across it, along with the address, written in poor handwriting and in multiple colors. Many of the words are not in English.

“We are now trying to figure out who did it and why,” Fitzpatrick said. “It just seems to be a hoax.”

The Postal Inspectors said they do not believe that this is anything other than a hoax and are not worried that any future mailings will actually contain smallpox. However, if the investigation leads in that direction, they will team with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and treat the case as an act of terrorism.

“Smallpox is so extremely rare, to be able to get your hands on something on that,” Fitzpatrick said.

This alleged hoax comes with severe criminal penalties. The perpetrators face up to five years imprisonment and a fine, plus required to reimburse emergency responders for any costs. They are also liable to be sued for any expenses relating to the hoax.

Terry Pence, chair of the department of Sociology, Anthropology, & Philosophy at NKU said he had not been notified of the threat and offered no immediate additional comments.

Anyone with information about this alleged crime should contact the United States Postal Inspectors at 1-877-876-2455.

Story by Jesse Call