FBI investigating after suspicious package sent to Sedgwick County Courthouse

Published: Mar. 22, 2021 at 4:52 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Update: The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office said that a Division of Finance employee who was exposed to diaminotoluene on Monday has been released from the hospital and is recovering at home. The diaminotoluene is a chemical used in hair dye that can cause itchiness, irritation and respiratory issues.

Three other county employees continue to experience minor symptoms from the incident but continue to work.

The investigation into the suspicious package was turned over to the FBI and the case is being investigated as a an act of terrorism, Sedwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter said.

The sheriff’s office said the powdery substance came in an envelope addressed from the Moorish National Republic Federale Gobernmete – Societas Republic ea al Maurikanos.

Sheriff Easter refers to the group as a sovereign citizens group that does not believe the laws of the state or federal government apply to them. He said his department is familiar with the group and often receives mail from them, demanding that the county stop enforcing laws on its members. Monday’s incident involving the white powder in an envelope is a first, though, Easter said.

“It’s not something that we’ve ever seen where they’ve necessarily (done) a terrorist attack, the but the threatening letters from them, the harassing letters from them, that’s pretty normal,” he said.

Easter said there were documents or letters included in the envelope that contained the powder, but wouldn’t go into what those documents were.

Monday, March 22, 2021

A suspicious powder found on an envelope caused a health concern for an employee and prompted a heavy emergency response that included Hazmat

The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office said Monday afternoon, an employee in the Division of Finance was opening mail at her workstation on the eighth floor when she noticed an odor and a powdery substance on an envelope.

‘Within a short time, the employee began to experience respiratory issues and skin irritation,” the sheriff’s office said.

County personnel called the Wichita Fire Department and shut down ventilation on the eighth floor of the courthouse.

“The employee experiencing respiratory issues was removed from the finance office, decontaminated and transported to a local hospital for evaluation. Three additional Finance employees, two courthouse police officers and two sheriff’s deputies were also decontaminated as a precaution,” the sheriff’s office said.

The sheriff’s office said a Hazmat ID test determined that the powdery substance in the envelope was diaminotoluene.

Eyewitness News spoke with Dr. Gregory Reed who has done research on the substance. He said diaminotoluene is not something that’s readily available for purchase.

The EPA says it can raise risks of cancer, but only if someone were to be exposed for a long period of time.

“I can say although it has that classification, there are pretty weak carcinogens that would require a high rate of exposure to cause cancer in people,” Dr. Reed said of diaminotoluene.

He said the substance should be handled with caution. In the case at the Sedgwick County Courthouse, it is not clear how much of the substance the employee who opened the mail was exposed to. The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office is working with the FBI on the investigation to determine where the Diaminotoluene found on the envelope came from.

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