Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Amerithrax 2001

Germ Warfare

AMI Building, Florida
AMI Building, Florida

Joseph Contreras, Michael Isikoff and Howard Fineman stated in their October 2001 article, Anthrax Alarm, that soon after the death of Stevens, the offices where he worked were besieged by "fire rescue vehicles and unmarked trucks," as well as "investigators in white germproof suits" combing the area around the building. It became increasingly clear that the battle lines in the war on terror were being drawn closer to home. America was under threat in a way few had expected but many had feared.

Following an investigation into Stevens' death, anthrax spores were discovered on his computer keyboard in his office. The building was immediately closed to workers while a sweep of the premises ensued. Eventually, more spores were found in approximately 90 other places throughout the AMI building. Considering the amount of anthrax, it was surprising that more people didn't die. However, one other person did become infected.

Ernesto Blanco
Ernesto Blanco
The day before Stevens fell ill, 73-year-old AMI mailroom clerk, Ernesto Blanco, was admitted to a local hospital in Miami, where he lived. He was suffering breathing problems, coughing, fever and fatigue and doctors suspected that he had pneumonia. Yet, on October 5 a nasal swab was ordered for Blanco because it was feared that he might have contracted anthrax since he worked in the same building as Stevens.

Sure enough, the tests came back positive for inhalation anthrax. He was aggressively treated for the disease and he eventually made a full recovery. He would be the last confirmed anthrax case in Florida in 2001, but there were more victims to follow in other states.

In New York City, a 23-year-old NBC employee was treated with antibiotics in late September, when it was suspected that she had developed cutaneous anthrax after handling a suspicious letter at her work. Her case was never confirmed but it was believed that she indeed had contracted the disease.

Another suspected anthrax victim was admitted to the hospital on October 2 for unusual skin lesions. This time the diagnosis was confirmed as cutaneous anthrax. Alarmingly, the victim was a seven-month-old infant whose mother worked at ABC. It was believed that the baby contracted the disease from his mother's workplace in late September. The little boy was fortunate to survive the incident. He would be the youngest known victim of the anthrax outbreak of 2001, yet he would not be the last.

At around the same time, a 27-year-old employee of CBS in New York City also contracted cutaneous anthrax. The woman, like a majority of the victims, survived the disease. The obvious string of media assaults would be quickly followed by a series of postal worker anthrax infections, which would end in the horrific deaths of two people. The country held its breath and waited for imminent death to strike. It seemed as if there was no place to hide from terror.


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