Bioterrorism Puts the Nation on Edge

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrea Billups and Daniel F. Drummond

A man with a gun, a knife and a spray bottle of an unknown fluid threw a scare into dozens of passengers on a Metro train yesterday, a day when similar incidents kept Americans on edge across a good part of the nation.

When Metro police tried to apprehend the man for failing to pay his fare at the Southern Avenue station in Temple Hills, he fired his gun and sprayed several passengers before he was subdued.

Prince George's fire and police officials said early tests of the fluid indicate it was probably a "cleaning solution." A container of another liquid the suspect dropped during the scuffle is believed to have contained perfume.

Police said the man, who also wielded a 12-inch knife, mumbled something in Arabic.

Thirty-five passengers on the Green Line car reported nausea, headaches and other symptoms. They were decontaminated by scrubbing at the station, which was closed for four hours, and taken to nearby hospitals.

Police said pepper spray used to subdue the suspect probably caused the passengers' illnesses. All were treated and released. No one was hit by the bullets fired by the suspect, identified by police as Kenneth Ranger, 23, of Capitol Heights. He has been charged with attempted murder and is being detained at an unnamed hospital.

Police and medics responded to several false reports of contamination in restaurants, offices and banks in Florida, Kentucky and Ohio in the wake of the anthrax death of a man in Florida, setting off fears, unfounded, of widespread terrorism by biological and chemical weapons.

In Melbourne, Fla., a man was escorted from his home by workers in biohazard suits and taken to Holmes Regional Medical Center. He called police to report he had opened a letter containing a powdery substance about two months ago and now was feeling sick.

cIn Covington, Ky., police sealed off an Internal Revenue Service office building and put 200 workers under quarantine after an employee opened a letter containing an unidentified white power. He was later scrubbed down by a hazardous materials team.

cIn Cincinnati, a doctor's surgery was interrupted and his office evacuated after staffers identified what they thought was a "suspicious-looking" envelope. The workers were scrubbed, but it turned out to be a false alarm.

cIn Prince William County, Va., a man who may have been to the Florida office of the anthrax victim went to the emergency room at Prince William Hospital in Manassas on Monday night with what was first suspected of being "a possible case of anthrax. …