Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner on Monday became the 16th governor to receive a letter rigged to ignite when opened and apparently sent from a maximum security prison in Nevada, state officials said.
West Virginia Gov. Robert E. Wise Jr. (D) later confirmed that his office also received one of the letters. Neither letter caught fire.
In Virginia, a letter addressed to the governor and bearing a return address for the Ely State Prison in Nevada was intercepted about 9:45 a.m. by the person who delivers the governor's mail from an off-site processing location to the state Capitol, according to Maj. Mike Jones, assistant chief of the Virginia Capitol Police.
The letter, which was similar to those sent to other governors, included a match device designed to flare when opened along the flap. The Virginia letter was slit along part of the bottom of the business envelope but the contents were not removed, Jones said.
"It is a reminder that we live in an unsafe world," Warner (D) said. "It seems like it's just the action of a single, disturbed individual. I don't think we as governors and public officials can be afraid."
Letters to the governor and his Cabinet are diverted to a separate mail facility, where they are X-rayed, screened by hand and subjected to other procedures that police declined to discuss.
The lab, in downtown Richmond not far from the Capitol, was created after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent incidents involving letters containing anthrax.
The letter received Monday never reached the state Capitol or Warner's office on the third floor, police and state officials said. State police said the letter has been turned over to the U.S. Postal Service and the FBI.
Bob Fisher, a postal inspector assigned to the case, said laboratory analyses of the letters are underway. He said interviews have been conducted at the Nevada prison, where all of the letters appear to have originated.
Investigators have said that the envelopes to the governors apparently did not contain any written messages. In three cases, a match embedded in the envelope flared when the letters were opened, but no one has been injured.
Fisher said punishment for sending such a letter would range from five years to life in prison. The death penalty could apply, he said, if someone were killed by a letter sent through the mail.
Virginia officials said they routinely receive threatening or dangerous items in the mail addressed to the state's political leaders.
Jones said that Virginia officials have received hazardous nursing home waste, feces, insects and underwear in letters or packages addressed to state leaders. Several letters have been found to contain suspicious powder, he said.
"After September 11 . . . it's a far different world," he said.
In West Virginia, Wise said, the letter was not caught by screening procedures and made it to the governor's office. Wise was in Richmond at the time for the annual meeting of the Southern Governors Association.
Wise said an alert clerk in the office noticed the letter and alerted authorities. He called it "an outrage" that someone would subject state employees to "fear and terror" by sending the letters.