Those Who Knew Anthrax Suspect In Disbelief

People who knew Bruce Ivins say they can't believe the government's contention that he's the man behind the 2001 anthrax killings.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

The Justice Department and the FBI may say they're sure they focused on the right man in Bruce Ivins, but his friends and colleagues are equally convinced the government is wrong.

NPR's Allison Keyes spoke to several people who just can't believe the man described as a sociopath is the same mild-mannered scientist they knew.

ALLISON KEYES: Robert Duggan and his wife, Bonnie, have lived several doors down the street from the Ivins for 19 years, and they just can't believe what the government says.

Mr. ROBERT DUGGAN (Former Neighbor of Dr. Bruce Ivins): Dr. Ivins always struck me as a straight arrow, just a good guy.

KEYES: Bonnie Duggan is equally supportive.

Ms. BONNIE DUGGAN (Former Neighbor of Dr. Bruce Ivins): I really liked Bruce. Bruce was the kind of guy you'd like to have at the neighborhood picnic. He was the kind of guy that if you needed anything, and he had it, he was going to help you out with it.

KEYES: The Duggans says Bruce Ivins once showed up at their house with a hard hat and safety goggles on, offering to help them cut down a tree on their property after they tried to borrow his chainsaw, which is why Bonnie is adamant that the government is wrong.

Ms. DUGGAN: No, this is Bruce, who drives around a 20-year-old red van that he and his wife bought when their kids were very involved in swim meets at their school so that they had more room to take other kids with them to these meets.

Dr. KENNETH HEDLUND (Former Colleague of Dr. Bruce Ivins): I can't believe that Bruce Ivins was guilty of what they're accusing him of.

KEYES: Dr. Kenneth Hedlund worked with Bruce Ivins at Fort Detrick in the last 1970s and early 1980s when the anthrax program there began. They worked together for five or six years. And Hedlund, a retired physician, remembers Ivins as a man who worked well with his colleagues.

Dr. HEDLUND: He was a very outgoing, very friendly guy. He juggled at parties, very team-oriented, not a loner at all.

KEYES: Hedlund doesn't believe that Ivins would have had the expertise to convert anthrax bacteria into the fine, deadly powder that showed up at media outlets and congressional offices in 2001. Hedlund says he agrees with Ivins' neighbors and co-workers, who think scrutiny and surveillance from the government was distressing for the sensitive scientist and those he worked with.s

Dr. HEDLUND: I would imagine that the FBI harassed a lot of them, and some of them were able to, you know, put up with it, but Bruce Ivins was one of these individuals who was not able to put up with the harassment.

KEYES: Bruce Ivins' older brother, Tom, agrees with the assessment that Bruce buckled under the increasing pressure.

Mr. TOM IVINS (Brother of Dr. Bruce Ivins): That's right. That's what caused his suicide.

KEYES: But otherwise, Tom Ivins' take on his brother is much darker. Tom Ivins says he had not spoken to Bruce since 1985. He refused to say why, but he admits there had been a time when they played together.

Mr. IVINS: When he was a kid, I gave him rides on my bike, in my basket.

KEYES: But Tom Ivins believes his brother Bruce could have mailed the anthrax. When asked if there was anything about Bruce that he liked, Tom said.

Mr. IVINS: I didn't.

KEYES: Are you sorry he's dead?

Mr. IVINS: No.

KEYES: Bruce Ivins' other brother, Charles, declined to comment for this story, but his neighbor, Bonnie Duggan, echoed several others. She wonders if the government closes this case, and they had the wrong man, whether that leaves the real killer free to commit more crimes.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.

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