Police Pursue ‘Person Of Interest’ In White Powder Incident

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Ohio University police have a identified a “person of interest” in the mailing of a letter that led to the partial evacuation of an OU building Thursday and summoning of a weapons of mass destruction team.

The university announced Friday morning that a preliminary field test indicated the powder was not harmful.

OU Police Lt. Tim Ryan said there is a “person of interest” in the case. He said investigators are trying to determine what, if any, crime was committed.

The letter was sent to OU Legal Services. In addition to the powder, it contained multiple sheets of paper that did not contain any threatening message, Ryan said. The letter has been sent to a Columbus lab for further analysis.

With preliminary tests showing that the white powder found is not harmful, the FBI turned the investigation over to the OU Police Department.

“The FBI’s preliminary investigation determined the circumstances did not warrant opening a federal case, so the investigation was turned over to OUPD,” the university said in a statement issued Friday morning.

FBI spokesman Todd Lindgren said that the FBI would take the lead in such an investigation if an actual weapon of mass destruction was involved or if the incident was believed to be terrorism related. Lindgren said both have been ruled out, so the investigation was turned over to the Ohio University Police Department.

The Messenger asked Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn what charges could be filed in a case where the mailed powder is determined to be harmless.

Although not commenting on this specific investigation, Blackburn said the most serious charge would be possession or use of a hoax weapon of mass destruction. If there were a conviction on that charge, the sentence would depend on whether the person has a prior felony record.

If it’s a first-time offender, the person would not be eligible for prison, so the sentence would be community control, Blackburn said. Someone with a prior felony record could be sentenced to between six months and 18 months in prison. The maximum fine is $5,000.

According to OU, at about 11:18 a.m. Thursday an employee at the West Union Street Office Center (former HDL Center) opened an envelope received in the mail that contained white powder. Ohio University police were summoned, and OU’s Legal Services office and Peoples Bank, also located in the building, were evacuated. An Ohio National Guard weapons of mass destruction team from Rickenbacker Air Force Base and the FBI were called in.

A statement issued Friday morning by the university said that the WMD team completed preliminary field tests of the powder and indicated there were no harmful substances present. The envelope was packaged for safe removal and the area was decontaminated. The WMD team completed its processing of the scene and declared the office safe for occupancy shortly after the package was removed.

The Legal Affairs Office and Peoples Bank resumed normal operations Friday.