By Wednesday night, authorities had arrested Paul Kevin Curtis of Corinth, Miss., as a suspect in the ricin mailings, the FBI said in a statement. Curtis also sent a third letter to a Mississippi justice official, the FBI said. He is well known to law enforcement as a frequent letter-writer to lawmakers, two officials said.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), in a statement late Wednesday, thanked law enforcement officials “for their professionalism and decisive action in keeping our family and staff safe from harm.”
The ricin scare had spilled into public view in dramatic fashion earlier Wednesday, less than two days after the deadly bombings at the Boston Marathon and bringing with it an eerie echo of the waves of fear that followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Suspicious envelopes were hand-delivered to the Capitol Hill offices of senators from Alabama and West Virginia, prompting evacuations of their staffs, and lockdowns of many more. Two other senators — from Arizona and Michigan — reported that authorities were investigating suspicious letters delivered to district offices in their home states.
In all, five senators, including some in the thick of contentious negotiations over gun-control and immigration bills, were sent into emergency mode. Another wave of anxiety swept through the Capitol just before lunchtime when a bag left in the entranceway of a Senate building brought a bomb squad racing toward Capitol Hill. Police ordered thousands of staffers and aides not to leave their offices.
After two tense hours, the package was cleared, as were two letters delivered earlier to the offices of Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.).
“I’m just tickled to death everybody’s safe, that’s all I was caring about,” said Manchin, who was on the floor of the Senate lobbying for his measure to expand background checks for gun buyers when he was alerted that his staff had been evacuated after a letter had been left on the front desk of his office.
Manchin dismissed the idea that his role in the gun-control legislation, which failed late Wednesday, could have made him a target. He also shook his head at the timing, coming right after the Monday attack in Boston: “Strange time in America, isn’t it?”
Phone messages left at numbers listed for Curtis and a relative in Mississippi were not immediately returned late Wednesday.