AUSTIN, Texas – The FBI sent a team of experts on weapons of mass destruction Saturday to collect samples of a powder found in a University of Texas student dormitory that were preliminarily identified as the deadly poison ricin.
A student discovered the powder Thursday afternoon in a roll of quarters she was using to operate washing machines in Moore-Hill Hall. She notified dormitory officials, who brought in university police and local health authorities.
Preliminary tests conducted by the Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department showed by Friday night that the powder was ricin, prompting the involvement of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. The dormitory was temporarily closed for decontamination, and the 400 students living in Moore-Hill Hall were notified of the results at a late-night briefing at a nearby dorm. Other than the laundry room and a portion of the second floor, Moore-Hill was reopened to students at 12:30 a.m. Saturday.
Special Agent Rene Salinas of the FBI’s San Antonio office said the agency believed the incident “is not terrorist connected.” But he said a team of WMD experts from FBI headquarters in Quantico, Va., had flown to Austin to collect samples of the powder for further testing. Other federal agents “are trying to determine the exact origin of this material,” Salinas said, noting that additional testing would be completed over the weekend.
The student who found the powder had not exhibited any symptoms of exposure to the toxin but was notified of the test results and asked to seek medical attention as a precaution. Her roommate was alerted also.
Salinas said the student was given the roll of quarters by a parent and “may have had the quarters for at least two weeks” in her dorm room.