White powder in mail closes Georgia courthouse

Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011 7:20 AM
Last updated 8:24 PM
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NAHUNTA, Ga. - The Brantley County Courthouse was closed for about three hours Monday after a powdery substance puffed from a envelope opened at the clerk of court’s office.

The coastal Georgia courthouse was closed about 10:45 a.m. and reopened when the FBI determined the contents were not harmful.

Clerk of Court Cindy Crews said the envelope had the return address of a state prison inmate.

“Some dust particles came out when I opened with a letter opener,’’ she said. “Then I tapped it and there was a poof of dust.”

Having gotten some of the dust on her blouse, Crews asked Magistrate Jeff Thomas for advice. Thomas recommended calling the Sheriff’s Office, which resulted in everyone being evacuated from the courthouse and its temporary closure.

An FBI special agent came from Brunswick, put on a protective mask and gloves and examined the envelope and determined it was not dangerous. The courthouse reopened around 2 p.m.

Crews said the envelope had arrived inside a plastic sleeve that typically indicates a piece of mail had been damaged in transit. Crews said she secured the envelope inside another plastic bag and left the building.

Toxic substances such as anthrax have been sent through the mail before, causing panic and a few deaths around the country, but usually the suspicious powders turn out to be harmless, as it was in this case.

“Most every time I’ve heard something like this reported, it turns out to be a hoax, but there are those times that it’s not,’’ County Manager Parrish Barwick said. “We have to follow protocols and let law enforcement do its job.”

Barwick said daily access to the courthouse is limited to one door with deputies on duty and a metal detector in place.

“We don’t have a powder detector, though,” he said.


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