Federal and state investigators puzzled over a motive and questioned Nevada prison inmates Friday after at least 14 governors and the state's prison chief were sent envelopes that, when opened, caused a match to flare.
Special Agent Todd Palmer in Las Vegas said the FBI was working
with the U.S. Postal Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Department of Homeland
Security to investigate the envelopes.
So far none of the envelopes that has been opened contained any
writings, but all bore a return address from Nevada's
maximum-security Ely State Prison.
Some letters were intercepted by state officials after warnings
were issued about the suspicious mailings. They will be turned over
unopened to federal investigators for lab analysis, Palmer said.
Most letters went to Western governors. Ten were sent to
Republicans and four were mailed to Democrats.
"It's too early to associate a motive with what it is they're
trying to do," Palmer said.
"Several letters have been received that haven't been opened,
so we're not sure what message they're trying to send."
"Maybe one has a letter," he said.
Palmer indicated more letters may surface, and the FBI was aware
of "fewer than 20."
"We don't know how many are out there. We'll just wait and
see," he said.
The rigged envelopes were sent to the governors of Montana,
Idaho, Nebraska, Washington, Utah, Texas, Oregon, New York,
Colorado, Massachusetts, Wyoming, Hawaii, Arizona and Nevada.
Another such letter went to Nevada Corrections Director Jackie
There were no reports of injuries from the letters that began
In Montana, the envelope prompted the evacuation of part of the
state Capitol, and a bomb squad was summoned to handle the envelope
Wyoming's state mail processing center located outside the
Capitol grounds in Cheyenne was evacuated while a specially
designed robot removed a suspicious letter Friday. Workers returned
A spokeswoman for Massachusetts governor's office said federal
authorities considered the mailings a domestic terror attack.
Glen Whorton, assistant director for the Nevada Corrections
Department, said two Ely State Prison inmates were questioned
Thursday because one or the other was listed as the sender on the
On Friday, Whorton said other convicts also were being
Whorton said authorities aren't sure whether the two inmates,
who he declined to identify, sent the envelopes or if their names
and inmate numbers were put on the envelopes by someone else - in
or outside the prison.
"We're doing a complete investigation. We're not assuming the
names on the envelopes are simply the end of the matter," he said.
"Investigators are not just talking to the two inmates."
While the letters could have been sent from anywhere, Whorton
added, "We're obviously focusing on Ely as the point of origin.
The investigators are out there today."
Whorton said a clerical worker opened the envelope sent to
Crawford's Carson City office, and was surprised but not hurt when
a match lit as she pulled out a blank piece of paper.
"Nobody was injured. It's very small. It was just a letter, set
up so that a match or a match head flares when you open it," he
Whorton said the envelope didn't look unusual, so it wouldn't
have been checked or opened before leaving the Ely prison - if
that's where it came from - or when it arrived at Crawford's
"There was no bulk to it, no external indication that there was
something odd there," he said.
Whorton said letters leaving Nevada prisons aren't opened unless
there's something unusual, such as a bulky envelope or an
inadequate return address. All incoming mail at Nevada prisons is
opened by staffers, but not read, before being delivered to
Prison officials routinely get letters from inmates, he said.
Whorton said the letters were obviously troubling.
" It's not dangerous but it's certainly frightening to get
something like this in the mail," he said.