FBI offers reward for information on threatening letters

A powdery substance returned in the mail to a Mercer Island home last February was a potentially harmful insecticide and part of a series of threatening diatribes concerned with the portrayal of cheerleaders on TV.

Last Tuesday, the FBI released more information about the mysterious letter, which contained a “brown granular material” and was received by a couple who live in the South end of the Island on Feb. 21. The Seattle Hazmat and Bellevue Bomb Squads were called in to handle the unknown substance.

In a prepared statement last week, FBI officials said that workers at their laboratory had determined the substance contained in roughly half of the letters was a potentially harmful insecticide. But no one has been harmed from the substance. There also doesn’t appear to be a connection between the recipients or the return addresses used by the suspect.

“We’re not aware of a relationship why individuals receive or were indicated on the return address line,” FBI special agent Fred Gutt said. “There’s no known connection. They appear to be random but somehow they came to the attention of the writer, whether or not they randomly selected them out of the phone book, we don’t know.”

The letters complain of unbalanced coverage of cheerleader and dance teams based on the outfits they wear, arguing that teams showing skin appear on television less than those that wear sweaters or long sleeves. The author of the letters also criticizes the coverage of WNBA players and professional tennis players. The excerpts from the FBI don’t mention any specific threats but one reads, “They exploit innocent people, so we will too.”

“The people receiving the letters are either the recipients or the return addressee and many of them are not known to be associated with cheerleaders, television or collgiate athletics,” Gutt said. “And it is confusing for them to be receiving such a thing.”

The letter that showed up on the South end two months ago was addressed to a person in Arizona, while other letters associated with the case were addressed to TV stations, various athletic departments and individuals in Washington, Oregon, Nevada and several Midwestern states, the press release stated.

Gutt said that the Mercer Island residents are not suspects. According to the MIPD police report from February, the residents’ return address was also used with letters containing bomb threats to individuals associated with Washington State University. These threatening letters sent to WSU warned the writer would blow something up in Spokane if demands concerning the portrayal of cheerleaders and dance teams were not met.

An excerpt from one of the letters mailed last December read, “For a long time we have warned ESPN the networks and several schools what would happen if this did not change [sic].”

Gutt said there may have been other letters received or returned to people that did not report it to the authorities.

“We hope that there may be some more people that might have thought they just received something kooky but may be able to provide additional evidence or be able to associate the letters with someone they know,” Gutt said. “We think that if they have written these letters, then they have spoken about it as well.”

The most recent letters were sent between last November and February with postmarks from Seattle.

The FBI originally planned to release the information on April 16 but didn’t want it to get overlooked after the news of the Virginia Tech massacre spread across the country. The FBI hopes the press release will generate more clues about the suspect or suspects.

“We know the suspect was in the local area,” Gutt said. “We don’t know if they are still here or not but we think they had to have associated with someone.”

The FBI is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the identification of the individual or individuals responsible for mailing the letters. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Seattle FBI office, (206) 622-0460 or call the bureau’s national number, (866) 915-8299.

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