Many friends and colleagues of Bruce Ivins, a government researcher who was under investigation for the anthrax attacks of 2001, have said they are certain that investigators are pointing to the wrong man. But at least one family member says he believes the allegations: Ivins' brother, Tom.
Tom Ivins, who lives in Middletown, Ohio, admits he hasn't spoken to his younger brother Bruce since 1985. He won't say why, except that there's no law that requires him to maintain contact.
"I don't owe him anything," Tom Ivins says.
Tom says he used to give his little brother rides in his bicycle basket when they were kids, but "we didn't play together because I was very athletic myself."
Their father was a pharmacist and their mother was a homemaker in Lebanon, Ohio. Tom played football in high school, while Bruce ran cross-country. But Tom says his brothers, Bruce and Charles, shared a disturbing family trait.
"They grew up with that attitude — I didn't — that they were omnipotent," Tom Ivins says.
He says there were no signs that something was wrong with his brother when they were younger, but he thinks pressure from law enforcement probably led to Bruce's suicide.
Tom says he is a much stronger man than Bruce was — proven by the way Tom says he handled questioning about the case by the FBI.
"They asked me a few questions, like 'What were you like growing up,' like family history questions, and I didn't buckle like the walls of Jericho coming tumbling down under their questioning, but it seems my two brothers did," he says. "Charles was not as strong as I am, nor was Bruce."
When asked if there's anything he liked about his brother, Tom replies, "No, I didn't."
He says he isn't sorry his brother is dead.
Charles Ivins declined to speak with NPR. But several of Bruce's friends and neighbors were eager to defend him.
Jaye Holly lived next door to the Ivins family in Frederick, Md., before moving to upstate New York a month ago — and she still can't process what she's hearing in the news with the man she knew.
"I was just stunned because it does not reflect the neighbor we had known for three years. I can't imagine that Bruce would have been involved in such a thing," Holly says.
Holly says everyone knew the neighborhood where so many employees of Fort Detrick lived was being watched.
"We knew that there was surveillance happening in the neighborhood, but we never knew who the surveillance was on," Holly says. "Because we knew that Bruce worked at Fort Detrick, we knew that he worked with pathogens, it was a possibility that the surveillance was on him, but it was such a remote possibility that we sort of dismissed it."
Dr. Kenneth Hedlund, who worked with Bruce Ivins at Fort Detrick, says he thinks the government needed a scapegoat. He says the FBI was under a lot of pressure after paying nearly $6 million to Steven Hatfill — another researcher who had been under suspicion in the anthrax attacks.
"Unfortunately, Bruce Ivins was a good guy — he was probably more vulnerable, and with the pressure they applied to him, they forced him to this position," Hedlund says.
Hedlund worked with Bruce Ivins in the 1970s, when the anthrax program at Fort Detrick began. He remembers the scientist as an outgoing, friendly man who juggled at parties.
Hedlund says he feels sorry for Ivins' wife and children, and he is bothered by what he calls the government's rush to say the problem is solved.
"It's a damn shame that they've chosen him as a fall guy, and I think they've chosen him as a fall guy because he was too human," Hedlund says.
Several of Ivins' neighbors said they believe the government had the wrong man — and suggest that perhaps the real killer is still out there.
Government investigators tell NPR that they were still several major legal steps away from indicting army researcher Dr. Bruce Ivins for the 2001 anthrax attacks when he killed himself this past week.
While they had written up the case and told officials at the Department of Justice they were prepared to go forward, the department had not yet approved the case. What is more, the evidence against Ivins had not yet been presented in its entirety to a grand jury and jurors had not yet been asked to vote on an indictment. That process could have taken weeks.
There had been some media reports saying that Ivins killed himself on Tuesday because he had been told that he was going to be indicted imminently. People close to the case told NPR that the FBI had a discussion with Ivins' lawyer and had presented him with some of the evidence in the case.
But the idea at the time was to convince Ivins' lawyer that it was in his client's best interest to admit to mailing envelopes with anthrax in the fall of 2001. People close to the investigation said it wasn't so much a plea discussion as the FBI making clear that they were steaming toward an indictment of Ivins.
The FBI is expected to provide a briefing on the evidence as early as midweek. The timing depends on a number of factors.
The case has to be formally closed before the FBI is no longer bound by grand jury secrecy requirements.
The bureau also has a blanket rule about not discussing pending cases. Normally, a case is closed by presenting evidence to the appropriate U.S. attorney and getting him or her to sign off on the case. Because the anthrax case is so high profile, officials said it is likely that Attorney General Michael Mukasey will have to sign off on closing it.
Once that happens, the FBI is expected to brief the anthrax victims who survived the attack and the families of the five people who died in the spate of anthrax mailings that took place in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
FBI Director Robert Mueller had promised the families that they would be briefed on the case and would not have to read about it in the papers. He is trying to make good on that promise, but can't do so until the case is closed and the grand jury restrictions are lifted.