White powder sent to HISD schools

October 11, 2010 8:30:42 AM PDT
At least 14 Houston schools received suspicious envelopes in the mail Friday with a white powder inside, and there could be more. HISD has put a stop on all mail to its campuses until Tuesday so the postal service can inspect all pieces of mail. The envelopes were found at 14 different campuses scattered all over the city, and investigators are trying to figure out where they came from.

The schools that received the letters are

  • Almeda Elementary
  • Anderson Elementary
  • Attucks Middle School
  • Alcott Elementary
  • Ashford Elementary
  • Bastian Elementary
  • Barrick Elementary
  • Bellaire High School
  • Blackshear Elementary
  • Briarmeadow Elementary School
  • Browning Elementary
  • Black Middle School
  • Burbank Middle School
  • Fonville Middle School

Durkee Elementary was among the campuses that originally reported receiving the powder but officials later determined it had not. Bellaire High School is the only high school to receive the letter, and Burbank Middle School was the last to find one around 8:15pm Friday.

It was around 2pm Friday when the first envelope was discovered. Soon HISD police started getting more calls and that included one from Browning Elementary in northwest Houston, where from the air, you could see the Houston Fire Department Haz Mat crews working among students. On the ground, there was urgency in their response.

"It's disrupting our school system," HISD Police Chief Jimmie Dotson said.

Within a short time, the number of schools that had received the plain white envelopes had grown. In every instance, authorities say the address had been typed, sent only to the school and inside was less than a teaspoon of a white powder.

Field testing quickly showed it wasn't dangerous after officials checked the substance for radiation and any kind of chemicals.

Even as the district and the fire department were holding a news conference, more envelopes were being discovered. Administrators were told to isolate them away from children until HazMat crews arrived.

At Bastion Elementary in southeast Houston, that was at about 3:15pm. Demetrius Moore got to the school as fast as she could.

"Was it life threatening? Was it chemical?" Moore asked. "In these days and times, you're concerned about this."

All over town, the only pattern authorities see is that most of the school names start with the letters A and B.

The powder will be tested further and even if it's confirmed harmless, and the person responsible will be sought because the response was costly.

"We have to take things very serious. We don't just omit them. We have to make sure that we go in, apply resources to investigate them," Dotson said. "We bring in other organizations, other agencies and law enforcement, so there are a lot of resources that are invested."

Field testing indicated the powder was cornstarch but the city of Houston's health department is performing extensive tests to ensure the substance is harmless. The U.S. Postal Inspector is the lead investigator in the case, so whoever mailed the letters could face federal charges.

Letters were sent home with students to notify parents of the incidents, although there didn't appear to be any danger to students or staff at this time. Houston ISD also will continue sifting through all its mail over the weekend to make sure no other envelopes were sent.


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