Preliminary tests of the substance found in a University of Minnesota student’s apartment at the Marshall “indicated the presumptive potential presence of ricin,” according to a Federal Bureau of Investigation statement.
Based on current information, the FBI said in a statement, they do not believe there is any risk to the public because it was likely contained in the apartment and it was not being used for criminal activity. The investigation is focusing on how the student came into contact with ricin and early indications suggest she was handling it intentionally, according to the statement.
In addition to this initial testing done by the Minnesota Department of Health Lab, the FBI is gathering evidence from the apartment and is sending it back to Quantico, Virginia for positive identification of the substance.
Ricin is a poisonous biological toxin found in castor beans. If the beans are chewed or swallowed, the ricin inside can cause injury.
The FBI took lead over the case from the Minneapolis Police Department because ricin is considered a potential weapon of mass destruction.
A hazardous materials team with the FBI was flown in to process the scene and was joined by the Minnesota National Guard.
The FBI’s Hazardous Emergency Recovery Team and the Minnesota National Guard’s 55th Civil Support Team are going through the apartment, looking for any potentially hazardous compound present.
“That word gets thrown around or any type of dangerous compound, these are typical protocols when you investigate something like that,” said Kevin Smith, public affairs officer with the FBI’s Minneapolis field office. “These folks are especially trained in recovering what could be potentially hazardous scenes.”
Minneapolis Police spokesperson John Elder said they are serving in a support role and it is “the FBI’s case at this time.” He said he was not aware of the students condition.
The FBI's recovery team provides support when dealing with “investigations of terrorism and the criminal use of chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) materials,” according to their website.
Residents were evacuated around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday after an unconfirmed report of ricin exposure in the building. One woman transferred herself to the hospital before the Minneapolis Fire Department arrived on the scene.
Bryan Tyner, an MFD spokesperson on the scene, stated ricin needs to be injected or inhaled to be dangerous. The building's HVAC system was turned off as a precaution, according to MFD.
Around 6:45 p.m. the scene was transferred to MPD and firefighters began leaving the scene. Residents began re-entering the building around 9:30 p.m.
The door to the apartment suspected to be involved has been sealed off and a police officer was stationed there overnight. Police tape blocks residents from passing through the hallway in front of the door.
This is a breaking news report. More information will be added as it becomes available.
Paul Hodowanic contributed to this report.