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Colleagues: Ivins' Suicide Not Proof Of Guilt

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Now, we don't know a lot about the case against Bruce Ivins. The FBI's released just a few details about the scientist who overdosed on prescription painkillers earlier this week.

NPR's David Kestenbaum spent the day in Frederick, Maryland, where the late scientist lived and worked. David, you've been talking to his friends, his colleagues at the Army Bio-Defense Lab at Fort Detrick?

DAVID KESTENBAUM: Yeah, I would describe them as mostly sort of puzzled. I mean, at some point the interviews got, you know, they came sort of close to tears - the two people I talked to today. But, you know, they mostly said they just - it was not the guy that they saw, you know, working with him at the lab.

Here's one example. This is Jeff Adamovicz, who worked with Ivins at the Bio-Defense Lab and at one point was actually his boss.

Mr. JEFF ADAMOVICZ (Former Director of Bacteriology Division, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases): There's no way I can conceive that Bruce had anything to do with the anthrax mailings. And I still, unless somebody presents me with what would have to be overwhelming evidence, I'll never believe it.

KESTENBAUM: Now, I mean, you often - you hear this sometimes about people who do terrible things, you know. But on the other hand, these were people who spent many years with him, and that is in contrast to the comments filed by a therapist, apparently who Ivins was a client of. And she was asking for a restraining order and she said that he had, you know, had a history of homicidal threats.

And no one I talked to who worked with him said that squared with the guy they knew.

SEABROOK: The FBI has been keeping very quiet about this.

KESTENBAUM: I think that's really what's frustrates the scientists. You know, they're willing to believe things but they'd like to see the data and they feel like at this point they don't understand what the motive would be. You know, no one said, look, here's the shed in the woods where this guy went out and made the powdered anthrax. You know, here's - he didn't have an alibi the day the letters were mailed.

They just don't see, you know, they would like to see some evidence other than just the understanding that he was the focus of the investigation.

SEABROOK: One of the things that I find most interesting about this is how the FBI traced the anthrax back to its source. There was an FBI statement yesterday about significant advances in the scientific forensics of this case. David, what do you know about that?

KESTENBAUM: Right. So, the FBI would love to be able to take the anthrax and the letters and know where it came from, maybe by analyzing the genetics. And that's very hard thing. So, they were able to tell in general what strain it was. It was the strain called the Ames strain but that wasn't very restrictive. A lot of places had the Ames strain, so they've been trying to advance that and they've had some success.

But the people I've talked to who know a bit about that research say it did not reach the point of an actual fingerprint, where you could say here's the anthrax that was in the letters and here's the stuff we found maybe in this guy's office and it's a perfect match. So, again, unclear exactly how far they got in being able to pinpoint where it came from.

SEABROOK: I see, and make the case against Bruce Ivins.

KESTENBAUM: And make the case against - or anybody.

SEABROOK: Bruce Ivins' lawyer wrote that Ivins was innocent and under relentless pressure.

KESTENBAUM: Yes. Ivins' friends who I talked to today, you know, talked about him being depressed in the past months. One of them said that he had mentioned that the FBI at one point had interrogated, taken his whole family, taken each member to a different location and interviewed all of them quite intensively, and that the FBI or the investigators had told his kids and his wife that he had done all these terrible things, and that was pretty traumatic.

Also Ivins was barred from coming to his place of work, and for a guy who's been going there for three decades, you know, that can be crushing.

SEABROOK: And now there's a memorial planned for Bruce Ivins.

KESTENBAUM: There's a memorial planned for next weekend. One of his children -one of his kids on their Facebook page wrote, I will miss you, dad; I love you and I can't wait to see you in heaven. Rest in peace. It's finally over.

SEABROOK: NPR's David Kestenbaum. Thanks very much, David.

KESTENBAUM: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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David Kestenbaum is a correspondent for NPR, covering science, energy issues and, most recently, the global economy for NPR's multimedia project Planet Money. David has been a science correspondent for NPR since 1999. He came to journalism the usual way — by getting a Ph.D. in physics first.
Andrea Seabrook
Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.
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