U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Ohio newspapers receive threatening letters containing unknown substances

Incident Details

Circleville Herald/Nancy Radcliff

The Circleville Herald and the Columbus Dispatch received threatening letters containing unknown substances in early July 2018.

— Circleville Herald/Nancy Radcliff
July 6, 2018

Two newspapers in Ohio — the Circleville Herald and the Columbus Dispatch — received threatening letters containing unknown substances in early July 2018.

On July 5, the Circleville Herald newspaper received a threatening letter. The letter contained an unknown substance, which the letter claimed was the powerful opioid drug Fentanyl.

The next day, Herald managing editor wrote about the incident:

On Thursday afternoon, a Herald employee opened a nondescript business envelope addressed to “Circleville Herald.” The letter threatened to physically harm the staff and said that the envelope contained the narcotic Fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid often found in powder form that can penetrate the skin and cause death in high doses. The staff member stopped reading and dropped the letter when they noticed an unknown substance in the envelope.

The staff member immediately washed their hands while another staff member called Circleville Police. On arrival, CPD officers donned protective gear and collected the letter, as well as any residual substance that came out of the envelope.

Police investigating threatening letter sent to Herald (Circleville Herald)

In a statement published on Facebook, the Circleville Police Department said that a hazmat team had been called in to bring the unknown substance to the Pickaway County Emergency Medical Authority for testing. The police have not yet publicly identified the substance.

In a July 6 tweet, Bahney said that the paper’s response to the threatening letter was to “put out a damn paper” — a reference to what had happened a week earlier at the Capital Gazette, when staff rallied to publish a newspaper following a deadly mass shooting at the newspaper’s offices.

On July 11, the Columbus Dispatch newspaper received a letter containing an unknown white powder. The letter was stamped as inmate mail from the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.

After the Dispatch’s security manager opened the letter and noticed the white powder, a hazmat team from the Columbus fire department and the FBI’s joint terrorism task force went to the Dispatch’s offices to test the unknown powder. 

Fairfield County sheriff Dave Phalen later told the Lancaster Eagle that the powder “was harmless and caused no injuries.” 

According to the Eagle, local police and federal authorities are investigating whether the cases are connected.

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