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Courthouse investigation continues as more counties field similar threatening letters

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Cassia Catterall with the Gillette News Record, via the Wyoming News Exchange

GILLETTE — Letters similar to the one that shut down the Campbell County Courthouse last Tuesday with threats of bioterrorism were also sent to three other Wyoming courthouses, two of which avoided evacuating the facilities, while the FBI continues to investigate.

Campbell County Commissioners received an update from Sheriff Scott Matheny Monday about the incident at the courthouse in Gillette, which also sparked conversation about protocols for providing information to the public in similar situations.

Matheny said a similar letter to the one reported in Gillette led to the evacuation of a Natrona County courthouse. Because the Casper building received a letter that looked like the one reported in Campbell County, Matheny said he sent a message out to sheriffs and courthouses statewide to be on the lookout for similar letters.

The communication allowed the Crook County Courthouse to avoid an evacuation Friday when it received the same letter.

“Because of the notification, they didn’t open it, sealed it up, called for hazmat and the FBI came in and they didn’t have to shut down anything,” Matheny told commissioners.

Matheny said Tuesday that Platte County Courthouse staff followed the same procedure when it received a similar-looking letter.

Although the FBI has remained quiet on its investigation, Matheny told commissioners there could be a potential suspect.

“I would think you do (have a suspect),” Matheny said, “because there’s a return address on the envelope and they were all the same ones.”

He said the name on the letter was that of a former inmate of the Campbell County Detention Center who was a resident in Campbell County years ago.

The letter in Gillette had a white powder inside of it with a note indicating exposure to a harmful substance, according to a Wyoming National Guard press release.

It was reported on the dispatch scanner as potential anthrax, but that was debunked by tests performed by the Civil Support Team of the Wyoming National Guard, which found the substance not harmful.

Vikki Migoya, public affairs officer with the Denver FBI office, said in an email that the FBI is investigating the Campbell County Courthouse incident and would not provide further updates on the investigation at this time.


Local communication


At the Monday luncheon Campbell County Commission Chair Del Shelstad also spoke to protocol he’d like to see put in place about how to manage communication in situations like the one seen last week.

Although the Gillette Police Department and Campbell County Fire Department were the “co-incident commanders” on scene, he said the departments asked Leslie Perkins, Campbell County spokesperson, to be the public information officer for the incident.

“The problem with that is the protocol with the city is different than the protocol with the county,” he said. “So who’s approving those messages that are going out?”

Shelstad said that was one of his biggest concerns because of wanting to ensure accuracy about the situation, while also balancing an ongoing investigation.

"I don’t think there was anything done wrong,” he said. “However, seeing how it happened, we think we probably need to develop a policy for the way that is, from a PIO standpoint. We’ve got a (joint powers agreement) and the city deciding they want this to go through the county, we gotta define that.”

Matheny said there’s a meeting next week to talk about communication protocols in those types of situations.

This story was published on May 8, 2024.

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