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Ivins' Estranged Sibling Believes Anthrax Allegations

Many friends and colleagues of Bruce Ivins, a government researcher who was under investigation for the anthrax attacks of 2001, have said they are certain that investigators are pointing to the wrong man. But at least one family member says he believes the allegations: Ivins' brother, Tom.

Tom Ivins, who lives in Middletown, Ohio, admits he hasn't spoken to his younger brother Bruce since 1985. He won't say why, except that there's no law that requires him to maintain contact.

"I don't owe him anything," Tom Ivins says.

Tom says he used to give his little brother rides in his bicycle basket when they were kids, but "we didn't play together because I was very athletic myself."

Their father was a pharmacist and their mother was a homemaker in Lebanon, Ohio. Tom played football in high school, while Bruce ran cross-country. But Tom says his brothers, Bruce and Charles, shared a disturbing family trait.

"They grew up with that attitude — I didn't — that they were omnipotent," Tom Ivins says.

He says there were no signs that something was wrong with his brother when they were younger, but he thinks pressure from law enforcement probably led to Bruce's suicide.

Tom says he is a much stronger man than Bruce was — proven by the way Tom says he handled questioning about the case by the FBI.

"They asked me a few questions, like 'What were you like growing up,' like family history questions, and I didn't buckle like the walls of Jericho coming tumbling down under their questioning, but it seems my two brothers did," he says. "Charles was not as strong as I am, nor was Bruce."

When asked if there's anything he liked about his brother, Tom replies, "No, I didn't."

He says he isn't sorry his brother is dead.

Charles Ivins declined to speak with NPR. But several of Bruce's friends and neighbors were eager to defend him.

Jaye Holly lived next door to the Ivins family in Frederick, Md., before moving to upstate New York a month ago — and she still can't process what she's hearing in the news with the man she knew.

"I was just stunned because it does not reflect the neighbor we had known for three years. I can't imagine that Bruce would have been involved in such a thing," Holly says.

Holly says everyone knew the neighborhood where so many employees of Fort Detrick lived was being watched.

"We knew that there was surveillance happening in the neighborhood, but we never knew who the surveillance was on," Holly says. "Because we knew that Bruce worked at Fort Detrick, we knew that he worked with pathogens, it was a possibility that the surveillance was on him, but it was such a remote possibility that we sort of dismissed it."

Dr. Kenneth Hedlund, who worked with Bruce Ivins at Fort Detrick, says he thinks the government needed a scapegoat. He says the FBI was under a lot of pressure after paying nearly $6 million to Steven Hatfill — another researcher who had been under suspicion in the anthrax attacks.

"Unfortunately, Bruce Ivins was a good guy — he was probably more vulnerable, and with the pressure they applied to him, they forced him to this position," Hedlund says.

Hedlund worked with Bruce Ivins in the 1970s, when the anthrax program at Fort Detrick began. He remembers the scientist as an outgoing, friendly man who juggled at parties.

Hedlund says he feels sorry for Ivins' wife and children, and he is bothered by what he calls the government's rush to say the problem is solved.

"It's a damn shame that they've chosen him as a fall guy, and I think they've chosen him as a fall guy because he was too human," Hedlund says.

Several of Ivins' neighbors said they believe the government had the wrong man — and suggest that perhaps the real killer is still out there.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Allison Keyes
Allison Keyes is an award-winning journalist with almost 20 years of experience in print, radio, and television. She has been reporting for NPR's national desk since October 2005. Her reports can be heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition Sunday.