‘Unconscionable’ practices: Professor uses strong words to criticize response to suspicious mail

U.S. Postal Inspectors say they are not actively investigating the recent suspicious packages, one bearing the words “small pox,” sent to Northern Kentucky University’s anthropology department all while one professor has called the decisions not to notify campus or interview the people in the anthropology department to which they were addressed “unconscionable.”

Sharlotte Neely, professor and coordinator of anthropology, sent an e-mail to her supervisors, division chair Terry Pence and Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences Samuel Zachary, calling on them to question the NKU administration and Department of Public Safety (DPS) for failing to notify anyone in the anthropology department about the packages.

“This is unconscionable on two levels. First, if there is any danger, we should have been given a heads up. Second, someone from DPS and the U.S. Postal Inspectors should have contacted and interviewed those in our department for any ideas of who could be behind this,” Neely wrote. “This disregard for our safety cannot continue.”

The new NKU police chief, who had not yet started his job until after both packages were received, said he is looking into the way these cases were handled in light of Neely’s concerns.

“I’m looking into it and I am currently working with those involved to figure out how we can improve on our communications,” said Chief Jason Willis.

The Postal Inspectors said they followed protocol for packages of this type. After a package has been deemed safe and the package lacks an explicit threat, the Postal Inspectors say there is little they can do because of the amount of resources they have.

“It being nonthreatening, there’s nothing really else we can do about it now. We won’t be actively investigating it up until the point there is a threat,” Lisa Fitzpatrick, public information officer for the Postal Inspectors, said.

The perpetrator wrote “small pox” on the September envelope, which included several other written statements that investigators indicated do not seem to make sense. However, the envelope did not threaten the use of small pox nor specifically say that it contained small pox. The October envelope had similar characteristics to the one sent in September, but did not contain any threats.

“We don’t want to make it seem like we don’t care about people’s safety. We truly believe there is no threat with these letters,” Fitzpatrick explained. “We’re still going to have an open file on it in case it does escalate, but as of right now, we don’t have a lot to go on.”

That can change if tips and information come in. Anyone with information on who is sending the letters should contact the U.S. Postal Inspectors at 1-877-876-2455.

NKU Police is not planning to investigate further unless they are given reason to do so, even though the Postal Inspectors said they would welcome the help.

“We turned the investigation over to the postal inspector, however we welcome anyone with information regarding these packages or any other suspicious activity to contact us,” Willis said.

Fitzpatrick also said the Postal Inspectors would be willing to train the university on how to deal with these packages, including the anthropology department. She also said they would gladly take any information that Neely or anyone at the university has about the threat.

Story by Jesse Call