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APWU Web News Articles

Victims Remembered, Workers Honored On Fifth Anniversary of Anthrax Attacks

Moment of Silence to Be Observed at USPS Facilities Oct. 21

Web News Article #: 
60-2006

10/20/2006 - Two APWU members who died after being exposed to bacteria-laced mail were remembered during ceremonies Oct. 19 commemorating the fifth anniversary of the attacks. The memorial was held at a church near the Washington, DC, facility named in honor of the fallen postal workers.

Thomas Morris Jr., 55, who had worked for the Postal Service since 1973, died Oct. 21, 2001. Fifteen-year USPS veteran Joseph Curseen Jr., 47, succumbed a day later. The two Maryland residents died of respiratory ailments following their exposure a week earlier to letters bound for Capitol Hill.

APWU President William Burrus, who was unable to attend the memorial, said in a letter that co-workers of Curseen and Morris “will be remembered as ordinary American citizens who faced death and danger but continued to serve.”

“It was a terror-stricken time for all,” said Secretary-Treasurer Terry R. Stapleton. Speaking at the ceremonies, he recalled the heroism of postal workers who reported to work despite their fear. “I have never been so proud to be a member of the American Postal Workers Union and to be an employee of the Postal Service.” 

Deadly Letters 

A letter containing anthrax spores was opened in the office of Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-SD) on Oct. 15, 2001. Mail to Capitol Hill was processed at the Brentwood Avenue facility in Washington, which was renamed the “Joseph Curseen Jr. and Thomas Morris Jr. Processing and Distribution Center” in September 2002. The Curseen-Morris facility did not re-open until December 2003.

“There were other victims,” Stapleton said. “Five died, and others were severely stricken, including three postal workers who fought for their lives.” The three are Leroy Richmond, who worked with Curseen and Morris, and Norma Wallace and Jyotsna Patel, who worked at the New Jersey P&DC from which the tainted mail to Washington was traced. “They were not so well known, but their suffering was profound. They cannot be forgotten,” he added.

Letters to lawmakers in Washington, NBC News in New York City, and the New York Post had been processed at the Hamilton Township facility near Trenton. Several postal workers in New Jersey exposed to the bacteria contracted “skin anthrax,” which is rarely fatal.

There were 18 confirmed anthrax cases in late 2001, with five known fatalities, though a postal connection to the Oct. 31 anthrax-related death of a 61-year-old healthcare worker from the Bronx was never confirmed. The first fatality was a photo editor at a weekly newspaper in Boca Raton, who died Oct. 4. The last was a 94-year-old Connecticut woman who died of inhalation anthrax on Nov. 21; her mail was processed at a P&DC in Wallingford, CT, which was later found to have been contaminated. 

After five years, investigators say that the purpose of the attacks and the identity of the person responsible for the attacks has not been determined.

Several hundred people attended the three-hour memorial service held at Washington ’s Israel Baptist Church, including postal workers, family members, and union and public officials.

U.S. Reps. Albert Wynn (D-MD) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and a host of other speakers honored the victims’ sacrifices and paid tribute to the hundreds of thousands of postal workers who bravely reported to work during the crisis.

Representing Postmaster General John Potter, USPS Vice Capitol Metro Area President Jerry Lane announced that on Oct. 21, a moment of silence would be observed at postal facilities.