Nevada prisoners questioned about letters rigged with matches
September 9, 2004
Two Ely State Prison inmates were questioned Thursday after several Western governors and Nevada’s prison chief received envelopes that, when opened, caused a match to flare.
The envelopes were sent to governors of Montana, Idaho, Nebraska, Washington and Utah and to Nevada Corrections Director Jackie Crawford. In Montana, the envelope prompted the evacuation of part of the state Capitol. There were no reports of injuries.
Glen Whorton, assistant director for the Nevada Corrections Department, said the two Ely State Prison inmates were questioned because one or the other was listed as the sender on the letter-size envelopes. He added the FBI is involved in the investigation.
But Whorton also said authorities aren’t sure if the two inmates, who he declined to name, actually sent the envelopes from the maximum-security prison or their names and inmate numbers were put on the envelopes by someone else – in or outside the prison.
Whorton said a clerical staffer opened the envelope sent to Crawford’s Carson City office, and was surprised but not hurt when a match lit as she pulled out a blank piece of paper.
“Nobody was injured. It’s very small. It was just a letter, set up so that a match or a match head flares when you open it,” he said.
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Whorton added the envelope didn’t look unusual, and so it wouldn’t have been checked or opened before leaving the Ely prison – if that’s where it came from – or getting to Crawford’s office.
“There was no bulk to it, no external indication that there was something odd there,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing that comes into the office every day.”
“It’s troubling, obviously. It’s not dangerous but it’s certainly frightening to get something like this in the mail,” he said.
Whorton said letters leaving Nevada prisons aren’t opened unless there’s something unusual such as a bulky envelope or an inadequate return address. All incoming mail at Nevada prisons is opened by staffers, but not read by them, before being delivered to inmates.
He added that prison officials routinely get letters from inmates.
Barbara Ranf, chief of staff for Montana Gov. Judy Martz, said the match was contained in a white business-size envelope and burned part of a piece of paper when it ignited.
She said the letter also contained a fuse and small plastic bag, but Martz said later that authorities had not confirmed the presence of a fuse.
Matches also ignited when letters to Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns were opened by staff members in Boise and Lincoln.
Similar letters also were sent Gov. Gary Locke of Washington and Gov. Olene Walker of Utah. Both those letters were intercepted following a nationwide alert to governors’ offices sent out Thursday after the first incidents. In Utah, a bomb squad was called to handle the envelope.
All were postmarked from the Ely State Prison, officials said.
Kempthorne spokesman Michael Journee said the envelope contained a blank sheet of paper rigged so that a match held inside it would strike when it was removed from the envelope.
“When the mail guy here opened it, that’s what happen and then the match went out,” Journee said.
In Montana, two floors of the Capitol wing containing the governor’s office were evacuated for about two hours. Sheryl Olson, deputy administrator of the state General Services Division in Helena, said the evacuation was ordered because police considered the incident a “credible threat.”
Associated Press Writer Bob Anez contributed to this report.