!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Bob Stevens
Bob Stevens was a participant or observer in the following events:
A bizarre love letter to Jennifer Lopez is received by The Sun, a tabloid newspaper with offices in Florida. The letter contains an empty can of chewing tobacco, a small detergent carton, a cigar tube with a cheap cigar, a cheap Star of David charm, and a folded handwritten letter to Jennifer Lopez with a pile of what looks like talcum powder in the middle of it. The writer describes his love for Lopez and asks her to marry him. The letter is handled both by Ernesto Blanco, who later contracts anthrax, and Bob Stevens, who later dies of anthrax. It is unknown what the return address is or what date the letter is postmarked, since its importance is only realized after it has been thrown away and people start getting sick. As a result, the FBI is never able to analyze it. [Newsweek, 10/8/2001; National Inquirer, 10/31/2001] However, others exposed to the letter, including Bobby Bender, the person who actually opens it, do not get sick later. [National Inquirer, 10/31/2001] Furthermore, the floor where the letter is opened and passed around will later turn out to be the least infected floor of the building, suggesting that the letter contained no real anthrax. But while the mail room in the basement is the most heavily infected part of the building, no other letter will be found that caused the infections there. [Center for Disease Control, 10/2002]
On September 22, 2001, an employee at the New York Post gets a blister on her finger. She will later test positive for cutaneous anthrax. Six others get sick from anthrax on September 26, 27, and 28, and October 1, including an assistant to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. But most of these cases their only visible symptoms are minor skin lesions. None of these cases are seen as anthrax infections at the time. On September 30, Robert Stevens, an employee at the tabloid The Sun, starts to feel ill. He will later die of the more serious inhalation anthrax (see October 4, 2001 and Shortly Afterwards and October 3, 2001). Only in the days right after his death will these earlier cases be properly diagnosed and linked to the anthrax letters. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001]
On October 2, 2001, Robert Stevens, a photo editor at the tabloid The Sun, arrived at a Florida hospital with a 102-degree fever and vomiting. He quickly got worse. The next day, doctors determine he has been infected with anthrax. He is put on a respirator. On October 4, Florida doctors and officials hold a press conference to confirm that a patient has anthrax, but that they believe it is an isolated case. On October 5, Stevens is pronounced dead, becoming the first person in the US to die from anthrax since 1976. One of Stevens’s coworkers, Ernesto Blanco, has been hospitalized with pneumonia since October 1, but it will not be discovered that Blanco also has anthrax until shortly after Stevens’s death. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001] Health and Human Services Director Tommy Thompson tells reporters that the Stevens infection is “an isolated case” that is “not contagious.” Thompson reassures the public, “There is no terrorism” involved in Stevens’s infection. He also asserts that Stevens was infected from an environmental source, saying, “We do know that he drank water out of a stream when he was traveling to North Carolina last week.” It is unclear whether Thompson is misinformed or being deliberately deceptive. [Daily Telegraph, 10/5/2001; Rich, 2006, pp. 34]
On October 3, 2001, doctors determine that Robert Stevens in Florida has been infected with anthrax (see October 3, 2001). A culture of anthrax bacteria is grown from a sample of his spinal fluid and quickly flown by corporate jet to Paul Keim. Keim is a geneticist at Northern Arizona University who had recently developed a means to distinguish between strains of anthrax. He and his team gets the sample on October 4 and work all night. By Friday morning, they tell investigators that it is the Ames strain of anthrax. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/1/2008] The media will first report that the anthrax was the Ames strain on October 10. [Associated Press, 10/10/2001] Despite Keim’s findings, the FBI will approve the destruction of a vital repository of Ames samples, also on October 10 (see October 10-11, 2001).
Gloria Irish. [Source: AP / St. Petersburg Times]The FBI confirms that Gloria Irish rented an apartment to two of the 9/11 hijackers. Her husband is Michael Irish, who is an editor of the Sun, a Florida tabloid newspaper, and the first victim of the anthrax attacks earlier this month. Bob Stevens, who also worked at the Sun, and several others at the tabloid offices were injured. The FBI says that Irish rented different apartments in Delray Beach, Florida, to hijackers Marwan Alshehhi and Saeed Alghamdi during the summer of 2001. But one FBI spokesperson says, “Right now it looks like a coincidence,” and another calls it a “strange coincidence.” Two of the hijackers, including Mohamed Atta, also had subscriptions to the Sun. [Knight Ridder, 10/14/2001; Guardian, 10/16/2001] But Irish says “there is no way” the hijackers could have known about any Sun connection through her. [Washington Post, 10/15/2001] Michael Irish is a licensed pilot who was a member of the Civil Air Patrol based at Lantana Airport. Atta reportedly rented a plane at that airport in August (see August 16-19, 2001). Stevens, who died of anthrax on October 5, also lived in Lantana. But there is no evidence that Irish or Stevens crossed paths with Atta. [St. Petersburg Times, 10/15/2001] The story will quickly die after nothing more is found to the connection.
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.