In the past week, details about former Army scientist Bruce Ivins' possible role in the 2001 anthrax attacks have been at the top of the news. Friends and former colleagues have expressed disbelief. Over the weekend, Charles Ivins, Bruce's older brother, gave his first and only media interview to talk about his brother and the evidence against him — evidence he had not previously seen.
The church where the family held Bruce Ivins' memorial service was packed. Some colleagues took a moment to remember a good friend. Others recalled cute poems Bruce had composed for retirement parties, or small jokes he had played. So much was said by others in the church, Bruce's brother Charles said later he had trouble coming up with original stories.
"I got up there and I realized that almost everything I was going to talk about had already been covered," he said, laughing.
So Charles decided to just speak from his heart — to talk about how he felt about Bruce. Later, he said, "Well, if you want three qualities about Bruce, I would say industrious, intellectual and witty."
Bruce was also kind, he said. "I think he was very considerate and compassionate. I remember with my aunt, when she was ailing, he would come over and sit on her bed and read her a book and that sort of thing. So he had a very considerate side to him."
Charles recalled vignettes of annual vacations they took together and the wonderful relationship Charles' son had forged with his uncle because of their shared love of science.
"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, though, 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.
'Blindsided' By Suicide
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 the FBI 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. But even after his brother's suicide, Charles said it was hard for him to accept the idea that his brother could have been behind the anthrax mailings. "I just can't imagine that, ever."
A Look At The Evidence
But it became clear that Charles had never actually seen the evidence against his brother or read the affidavits accompanying the FBI's search warrants. And as he read the evidence for the first time, wordlessly handing pages to his wife Nita, pointing out passages, darkness crept into his expression.
After several minutes of reading, he looked ashen. "I'm stunned now, I am just totally stunned," he said.
He picked up the affidavits and straightened them on the table before him. Then he sank into himself and put his face in his hands. "The evidence that you showed me today has really gotten me." He thought for a moment. "It threw me for a loop, really did, really just flabbergasted me."
As Charles and his wife read the affidavits, they appeared to fill in the blanks — the way only people who knew Bruce could do. They read the poems he wrote about feeling like he was two people, instead of just one. They read about Bruce sending packages to someone with a fictitious return address. They winced. They seemed to know who Bruce was sending packages to, even though the name on the affidavit was redacted. Then Charles sighed.
"It's just tough for me to deal with, that's all. Just tough for me to deal with," he said.
Asked if it seemed like the brother he knew, Charles said, "No, it does not, that's the part that just stuns me."
Did things in the affidavit seemed to ring true? Did others seem hollow or false? Charles shook his head.
"I'm not going to go there," he said. "I don't know what to think. It's difficult."
Asked if he thought it was possible that the FBI was right, Charles said, "Ah, well, it is always possible the FBI is right."
Charles emphasized that he didn't necessarily think the FBI was right this time about his brother. But he didn't rule it out either.