Packages sent to Gov. O'Malley, Md. agency flash and smoke

Maryland State Fire Marshal William E. Barnard briefs the media at the Maryland Department of Transportation about suspicious packages state offices received in Annapolis and Hanover.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 7, 2011; 12:34 AM

Separate packages addressed to Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and his secretary of transportation contained incendiary devices that flashed, smoked and produced an odor when they were opened Thursday, causing minor injuries to two employees and putting officials around the Washington region on alert.

Officials stressed that the packages were not mail bombs and that so far they have found no explosive material associated with either of them.

The package addressed to O'Malley (D), which came with colorful holiday stamps, was opened about 12:30 p.m. in the mailroom of the Jeffrey Building on Francis Street in downtown Annapolis. It singed the fingers of the worker who opened it but didn't cause any property damage.

About 15 minutes later, a similar package was opened with a flash, smoke and a sulfur smell at the Maryland Department of Transportation headquarters in Hanover. The worker who opened it was taken to a hospital as a precaution, but again, there was no property damage. Authorities said both parcels were about the size of a book.

Law enforcement officials said both packages contained notes, but they declined to say what the notes said. However, a note from the sender that accompanied the package to O'Malley contained a mocking reference to the phrase "report suspicious activity," saying it was "total [expletive]," according to a source familiar with its content.

O'Malley told reporters Thursday night that the phrase might be a reference to the sender's displeasure with overhead highway signs.

Maryland State Fire Marshal William E. Barnard said he was unaware of any threats to state officials.

The devices caused about as much harm as they were capable of, officials said. "It would be wrong to characterize it as a bomb," Barnard said. "There was no explosion."

Maryland and federal officials said the packages did not explode, and they characterized them as incendiary devices. State officials are leading the investigation, with help from federal agencies.

But for a while Thursday afternoon, there was a frenzy and fear that there would be more-serious undiscovered devices. Officials evacuated the affected buildings, blocked nearby roads and quarantined all state mailrooms.

"We didn't know what we were dealing with at the time," O'Malley said.

O'Malley, who said he had spoken to the worker who opened the package addressed to him, called the incident "a reflection of the times we're living in."

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