Darcy Thrall says the harassment started last year with obscene phone calls and a one-word note - “SILKWOOD” scrawled on a brown paper bag and shoved into her mailbox.
“It didn’t register until I got to my front porch. (Karen) Silkwood was the nuclear worker who was killed,” Thrall said.
Then came the mutilation of her pet turkey, followed by another crude note in her mailbox: “Darcy T., R.I.P.”
Thrall says the anonymous threats began soon after she told a Tri-Cities audience last January about being one of 5,500 children involved in a Hanford radiation study in the 1960s.
The 40-year-old veterinarian’s assistant made local headlines when she recalled being told to drink a milky white liquid and lie down in a large, tubelike machine.
The study was aimed at determining whether radiation in children’s bodies came from worldwide fallout or from Hanford operations.
“Immediately after it hit the paper, the threatening phone calls began, day and night,” she said in an interview at her rural home 10 miles from Richland.
Thrall doesn’t know who might be responsible for the harassment, and there is no proof it is linked to Hanford.
But the threats escalated after she repeated her childhood story last fall to a White House committee investigating Cold War radiation experiments.
“You always have to hold out the possibility that something else is going on,” said Cooper Brown, an attorney with the national Committee of Radiation Survivors in Washington, D.C.
“But the harassment began when Darcy began to get involved, and it has intensified since her testimony,” Brown said.
Four days before Christmas, a computergenerated birthday card was slipped into her car at an aerobics class in Richland, warning her to “leave town.”
On the night of Jan. 3, Thrall said, she was tailgated in Richland. She tried to get away, but the car kept its high-beam lights on her until she drove to a Fred Meyer store and fled inside.
Last week, she said, someone thrust a butcher knife into a rocking chair on her porch as she slept inside. Her whining dog awakened her.
Thrall reported the incidents to Benton County sheriff’s deputies last April after someone stabbed her 50-pound turkey and hacked off its tail. The Sheriff’s Department temporarily installed a phone trap to trace calls, and the obscene calls stopped, she said.
But Thrall complains little more was done until she said she would go public with the harassment.
“They suggested I take a polygraph test, and I was offended. The Sheriff’s Department hasn’t done anything with this.”
Benton County has stepped up its malicious harassment investigation, assigning a detective to the case this week, said Capt. Mike Fitzpatrick.
“It is a very active case and we are looking at all possibilities. We hate to see anybody harassed like that,” Fitzpatrick said.
The hostilities have continued.
On Tuesday, Thrall awoke to find her prize Angora goat with antifreeze soaked into his beard. Someone also left a bowl of the poisonous liquid where her four cats could drink it.
“They are going right for my heart when they hurt my animals,” she said.
Thrall isn’t the only person involved in Cold War radiation studies to face harassment, said Brown, a leader in a new coalition of victims’ groups.
“We know of other instances around the weapons sites where we are having great difficulty getting people to step forward. They are worried about these kinds of incidents,” he said.
This is the first report of possible threats against someone who testified before President Clinton’s committee, said Stephen Klaidman, a spokesman for the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments.
The committee learned of Thrall’s harassment from the radiation victims’ coalition.
The U.S. Department of Energy in Richland hadn’t heard of the incidents until contacted by a reporter on Thursday.
“This is coming as a surprise to everyone here,” said spokesman Terry Brown.
After Thrall’s October testimony in San Francisco, Hanford officials offered personal records to participants in the Hanford dietary studies.
The studies, conducted from 1962 to 1972, weren’t secret and were publicized at the time. Hanford officials deny any children were forced to ingest liquids as part of the studies.
Thrall, who says she hated milk as a child, insists she has a vivid memory of being forced to swallow a white, milky liquid.
The DOE has sent her some records, including a consent form signed by her mother. But she is trying to get more details of the first studies, conducted by General Electric Co. in the early ‘60s.
“What they have to hide is what I drank,” Thrall said.
Since the most recent incidents, Thrall is carrying a gun. She also is working with Carter Kerns, a private investigator in Pendleton, Ore., to identify her tormenters.
The daughter of a Hanford worker, Thrall is one of 3,500 people who have filed suit against Hanford contractors for radiation exposures during the Cold War.
Her eight brothers and sisters all suffer from a variety of ailments that they believe are linked to past Hanford radiation emissions - including thyroid disease. Her oldest brother is dying of leukemia.
“She has told us she suspects the government, and we are a part of the government,” said Fitzpatrick of the sheriff’s office.
Thrall has good reason for fear because of a common thread of harassment around nuclear weapons sites, said Tom Carpenter, a Seattle attorney for the Government Accountability Project. The group represents government whistleblowers.
He recently helped settle the cases of two Hanford whistleblowers who both say they received obscene phone calls and whose homes were entered after they reported Hanford safety problems.
Although Thrall isn’t a Hanford worker, her Hanford sleuthing makes her vulnerable, Carpenter said.
Thrall says she won’t quit until she knows more about the study she was a part of as a child.
“I’m not trying to bash Hanford, but to find out what happened to me. This harassment has made me angry. I’m on a mission now.”