Charles Ivins can't wrap his mind around the fact that the FBI thinks his brother, Army scientist Bruce Ivins, took deadly anthrax from the lab where he worked, milled it to a fine powder and then sent a handful of poisoned letters to members of Congress and the media.
"Of course, I am blood," he told NPR in an exclusive interview shortly after his brother's memorial Saturday. "I am his brother. And it is very hard for me to accept the idea that he would do something like that. I just can't imagine that — ever."
Charles Ivins was seven years older than his brother Bruce. Charles, a retired pharmacist now living in North Carolina, is soft-spoken and gentle. When asked to describe his brother, he said he was very intellectual. "He was very sharp upstairs and had a great sense of humor, a great sense of humor."
About 10 years ago, Charles and Bruce started going on annual vacations. Sometimes they went on road trips; other times they went shooting in North Carolina. Last year, they went on a cruise. Charles brought his son, and he and his uncle Bruce bonded. Charles' son, a nuclear submariner in the Navy, had a lot in common with his uncle.
"They hit it off extremely well," Charles said. "It turns out my son and my brother were at a very high intellectual level, and they started bouncing ideas off each other. All I could do is grab a strap and hold on."
The young man and his uncle chatted about quantum physics and subatomic particle theory. Charles said it was like listening to people speak in a foreign language. "I am going, 'What?'" Charles said, laughing. "I was just hoping I didn't appear too stupid. They hit it off quite well; that was a good memory."
Beyond those annual get-togethers, Charles and Bruce didn't see much of one another. Charles says each of the brothers were engrossed in their own families, their own careers. But each year, as the time for their annual vacation began to close in, there were a lot of e-mails and jokes. This year, the plan had been for Charles to see Bruce at home in Fredrick, Md., in August. Then the suicide happened. Charles and his son were shocked. Charles said they were "blindsided" by it.
While Charles had been vaguely aware that his brother was depressed and that the anthrax investigation was weighing on him, he didn't understand how much. He figured it came with the territory.
"I knew that he and just about everyone at Fort Detrick was under a microscope after" the anthrax attacks, he said. "He never did give me any details about what was going on, but I am sure he was being investigated."
Charles said Bruce just told his older brother that they had questioned him.
"He was feeling pretty depressed over the investigation," Charles said. "Of course, who wouldn't? So, I felt like a brother, he needed some support, so I was going to fly up there and be an objective listener."
Charles had already rehearsed what he was going to say. "I was going to have a little tough-love chat with him about different things," he said. "You know, one brother to another. Basically, sometimes you need someone in the family to say, 'Straighten up, feel better and don't let it knock you down.'"
Charles never got the chance to have that conversation. His brother killed himself just weeks before their annual holiday was set to begin. Bruce's friends have said that the FBI investigation drove him to kill himself. His friends say Bruce didn't feel guilty so much as under siege. There has been talk of legal action against the FBI or the Justice Department. Charles said he can't speak for Bruce's wife, but he has no intention to sue.