For Survivors and Families, Some Relief, Mixed Emotions

The Brentwood post office was renamed for Joseph Curseen Jr. and Thomas Morris Jr., both of whom died in the 2001 anthrax attacks.
The Brentwood post office was renamed for Joseph Curseen Jr. and Thomas Morris Jr., both of whom died in the 2001 anthrax attacks. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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By Mary Beth Sheridan, David Nakamura and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 2, 2008

In the seven years since the anthrax attacks sent him to the hospital and nearly killed him, retired D.C. postal worker Leroy Richmond has despaired at times about whether the case would ever be solved.

"I became kind of discouraged," he said yesterday, recalling how the number of agents on the investigation had dwindled at one point. "Then I said to myself, the FBI doesn't normally give up on cases," -- even if "it takes them years and years."

Yesterday, Richmond finally felt a sense of relief. He awakened to the news that Bruce E. Ivins, a Maryland bioweapons expert, was about to be indicted in the attacks when he committed suicide this week.

Ivins's attorney, Paul F. Kemp, maintained yesterday that the scientist was innocent. The Justice Department declined to describe the investigation, saying that some evidence was secret and that officials first had to notify victims and their relatives. One anthrax survivor said he had been told that the FBI is trying to bring together all the families affected for a briefing, perhaps this month.

Richmond and several other victims' relatives said yesterday that the FBI had not contacted them. Still, some said the news brought hope that their long ordeal is finally over.

"This is sort of a defining line, that we can put all this behind us, that it won't happen again to anyone else," said Richmond, 63, of Stafford County.

The anthrax attacks, which killed five people along the East Coast and sickened at least 17 more, spread panic throughout the country, especially coming on the heels of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Among the dead were two of Richmond's co-workers at the Brentwood postal facility in Northeast Washington, which had handled contaminated letters headed for Capitol Hill offices.

The first postal worker to die was Thomas L. "Mo" Morris Jr., 55, of Suitland, a quiet, religious man with a son and two stepchildren. His widow, Mary, who now lives in Illinois, said yesterday that she is grateful for the news she learned from reporters.

"All this time since 2001, there has been much said about what our government wasn't doing, and here we find out, all these years later, that the government was busy and actively investigating," Morris said. "And for that I say thank you to the government."

Another Brentwood worker, Joseph Curseen Jr., 47, of Clinton, a devout Catholic and neighborhood volunteer, died Oct. 22, 2001, a day after Morris.

His father learned about Ivins yesterday from relatives.

"It's closure, and that's the important thing," said Joseph Curseen Sr. of Southeast Washington. He said his only son wouldn't want the family to be destroyed by the pain surrounding his death.

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