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Leahy says anthrax letter could have killed 100,000

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Sunday that an anthrax-laced letter mailed to his office may contain enough spores "to kill well over a 100,000 people," but he said the tainted missive had not yet been opened by investigators.

Speaking on NBC's Meet the Press, Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, appeared to be basing his comments on the letter from an initial analysis of its exterior. Sources have said some spores seeped through the sealed envelope.

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    "It appears that the letter sent to me may contain enough spores to kill well over a 100,000 people, but it also may well have evidence, fingerprints or anything else," Leahy said.

    "And I think that the law enforcement people want to be really careful about opening it -- one, so they don't kill somebody, but secondly, so they're able to retain the evidence that might be there. This may be one of the better clues that we have, and I'm in no hurry for them to get it opened, if it will help them get more clues."

    The letter is being examined at a U.S. Army laboratory in Ft. Detrick, Maryland.

    The Leahy letter was the latest to be discovered in a string of contaminated mailings.

    Other letters have been sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, NBC News and the New York Post. The letter addressed to Leahy was postmarked from Trenton, New Jersey, on Oct. 9 -- the same day the Daschle letter was mailed from that city. The NBC letter was postmarked from Trenton on Sept. 18.

    The handwriting on the envelopes of the letters sent to Daschle, Leahy and NBC News was very similar, leading investigators to believe they came from the same person or persons.

    Eighteen people have contracted anthrax infections, and five of them have died. Investigators believe those letters -- and possibly others -- are responsible for the infections, although links have been hard to establish in some cases.

    The latest anthrax victim, Ottilie Lundgren, 94, was buried Saturday in the small Connecticut town where she lived.

    Tests showed that the anthrax that killed her was indistinguishable from the anthrax in the other cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    The widow had no apparent connection to the U.S. Postal Service, government offices or media outlets that have received or processed anthrax-laden letters.

    One other victim of inhalation anthrax -- Kathy Nguyen, a New York City hospital worker who died Oct. 31 -- also had no connection to any known letters in the case . Lundgren's infection was even more mysterious because she lived alone in rural Connecticut, had a limited schedule and didn't travel much.

    Investigators are trying to painstakingly reconstruct the last weeks of Lundgren's life, looking for the source of the anthrax contamination. They have taken environmental samples at a hair salon frequented by Lundgren, as well as Oxford's town hall, library and a local diner.

    Among the scenarios being investigated is that she might have been infected through contaminated mail. But Lundgren's home and about two weeks worth of mail found inside have so far tested negative for anthrax, as did tests on a post office and postal distribution center that handled her mail.

    FBI agents working on the Lundgren case are also comparing notes with agents investigating Nguyen's death, trying to see if there might be any links between the two women. So far, however, no links have been found, said Lisa Bull, an FBI agent in New Haven.


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