One letter from someone claiming to have possession of "approximately 67 grams of ricin," a deadly poison. Eleven gay bars told their establishments had been "targeted." And so far, nearly a week later, no answers.
It was last Tues., Jan. 6, that owners of several Capitol Hill gay bars discovered the short, typed letters. The text told them that at least five "clients" in each location would be "indiscriminately" targeted. "Given the amount of exposure," the letter read, "I expect them to die painfully while in hospital." Not surprisingly, the letter went unsigned.
Another letter sent to The Stranger put the alt-weekly on notice "to announce the deaths of approximately 55 individuals all of whom were patrons of the following establishments on a Saturday in January." Those establishments were the Elite, Neighbours, Wild Rose, the Cuff, Purr, the Eagle, R Place, Re-bar, C.C. Attles's, Madison Pub, and the Crescent.
Ricin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a poison that exists in castor beans. Chewing and swallowing the bean can release ricin, though it can also be made from the waste material of the beans after processing, such as during the manufacture of castor oil. Once inside the body --?whether through ingestion, injection, or inhalation -- the poison can halt protein production within the cells, leading to respiratory distress, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and possible death.
As news of the letter spread and its content appeared on the newspaper websites, it was discovered part of the text paraphrased a poem by award-winning poet and memoirist Mark Doty. In describing the suffering of the intended 55 victims, the letter says that "they'll be dead and nearly frozen, just as, presumably, they didn't care that they were living..." That line twists Doty's poem, "A Display of Mackerel," reprinted in the book Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems for which he won the National Book Award in Poetry last November.
As of Tues. Jan 13, no incidents of ricin poisoning had been reported. The FBI is involved in investigating the source of the letter.