Did revenge motivate white-powder threats to senators, others?

Published On: Oct 31 2012 10:38:11 PM EDT
Updated On: Nov 01 2012 12:18:10 AM EDT

A 45-year-old Jasper woman is charged with causing an anthrax scare. The FBI says she targeted the Jacksonville offices of Florida's U.S. Senators along with government agencies.

JASPER, Fla. -

The FBI says a 45-year-old Jasper woman is responsible for sending letters containing white powder to the Jacksonville offices of both U.S. Senators in June 2011, sparking fear among not only the staff of those offices, but the residents of the suspect's hometown.

Within hours, authorities identified the powder as harmless corn starch.  By the next day, federal agents suspected Kathryn Allen of putting the powder in letters to Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio. And they'd soon find evidence that dozens of similar threatening letters were mailed to government agencies and people across Northeast Florida. She was arrested and charged with nine counts of mailing anthrax hoax letters. 

Channel 4's Hailey Winslow spent time in Jasper -- about 90 miles west of Jacksonville -- to dig for a motive behind Allen’s alleged actions.

Allen is out on bond, but wouldn't come out of her home to answer questions or show her face. She did send her Rottweiler out to greet the TV crew.

Within 24 hours of the white-powder threats to the senators' offices, six FBI agents descended on the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office.

"I've been sheriff 24 years now and one or two is the most we've had here in this office before," Sheriff Harrell Reid said.

Reid said he'd been investigating the mailing of suspicious packages in and around Jasper for months by the time the FBI came to his door.

"Some of the things that was really strange about it was there seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to who received these letters," Reid said. "Some of them were other elected officials; some of them were employees at a school."

One package was sent to the Hamilton County Health Department; another to the Tax Collector's Office -- all containing a white powdery substance and a threatening letter.

One of the packages was sent to the Hamilton County Correctional Institution that contained a knife.  But it was the package that was sent to the Department of Children and Families that connected the FBI to Kathryn Allen.

"A doll was mailed to the Department of Children and Families, and that was the item that we recovered the DNA off of," Reid said.

The FBI matched that DNA with Allen.

"They just must've been really involved in wanting or seeking revenge, either for themselves or someone else," Reid said. "That's the only thing I can figure."

Thelecia Hawkins, whose family received a suspicious package, says Allen was either jealous of or wanted revenge against Hawkins' cousin, Cornelius Bennett -- a youth pastor at a Jasper church.

"I don't know why she targeted him, or maybe it was so much as the girl he was seeing, but it affected our family in a major way," Hawkins said.

Hawkins said the threats started more than a year earlier with text messages.

"We're all so close, and everybody got a threat or something saying such and such would happen if they didn't stop seeing each other," Hawkins said.

While no one was hurt as a result of the threats, the cities of Jasper and Jacksonville, Hamilton County, state of Florida and federal resources spent considerable resources responding to a series of scares that turned out to be a big hoax.

"It was a lot of wasted resources over something that seems very insignificant to me," Sheriff Reid said.

Allen is scheduled for a status hearing in federal court on November 19 and is scheduled to stand trial on December 3.  If convicted on all counts, Allen faces up to 45 years in federal prison.

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