Friday, August 01, 2008

Some Saw Dark Side

Ivins, 62, committed suicide this week as federal prosecutors zeroed in on him as a suspect in the 2001 attacks. They were planning to indict him and seek the death penalty.

Ivins' brother Tom, who stressed that had not spoken to Bruce since 1985, was not shocked to hear that his brother was accused of making death threats, and he conceded the possibility that Bruce may have been the anthrax mailer.

"It makes sense, what the social worker said," Tom Ivins said. "He considered himself like a god."

Some who knew Ivins said the scrutiny of the investigation was too much for him to bear. But they also asserted his innocence.

"The relentless pressure of accusation and innuendo takes its toll in different ways," his attorney, Paul F. Kemp, said in a statement. "In Dr. Ivins' case, it led to his untimely death."

Ivins had worked for the past 18 years at the government's biodefense labs at Fort Detrick. For more than a decade, he worked to develop an anthrax vaccine that worked even when different strains of anthrax were mixed, which made vaccines ineffective.

Dr. W. Russell Byrne, a colleague who worked in the bacteriology division of the Fort Detrick research facility, said Ivins was "hounded" by FBI agents who raided his home twice, and he was hospitalized for depression earlier this month.

According to Byrne and local police, Ivins was removed from his workplace out of fears that he might harm himself or others.

"I think he was just psychologically exhausted by the whole process," Byrne said. Ivins could frequently be seen walking around his neighborhood for exercise. He volunteered with the American Red Cross of Frederick County, and he played keyboard and helped clean up after Masses at St. John's the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, where a dozen parishioners gathered Friday after morning Mass to pray for him.

The Rev. Richard Murphy called Ivins "a quiet man ... always very helpful and pleasant."

An avid juggler, Ivins gave juggling demonstrations around Frederick in the 1980s.

"One time, he demonstrated his juggling skills by lying on his back in the department and juggling with his hands," said Byrne, who described Ivins as "eccentric."

Whenever a colleague would leave the bacteriology division, Ivins would write a song or poem for that person and perform it, accompanying himself on keyboard, Byrne said.

Ivins had several letters to the editor published in The Frederick News-Post over the last decade. He denounced taxpayer funding for assisted suicide, pointed readers to a study that suggested a genetic component for homosexuality and said he had stopped listening to local radio station WFMD because he was offended by the language and racially charged commentary of its hosts.

He also commented on the growing political influence of conservative Christians, and he was willing to criticize his church.

Ivins had mild persona, but some saw dark side