The arrest of a woman suspected of sending a letter containing poisonous ricin to the White House has sparked an investigation that involves both Canada and the United States.
The suspect — identified as Pascale Ferrier — was apprehended Sunday at the Peace Bridge border crossing in Fort Erie, Ont., by U.S. border patrol and placed in FBI custody.
An FBI affidavit, released before her court appearance Tuesday, claims Ferrier made statements to the officers about “being wanted by the FBI for the ricin letters” and had a loaded firearm and a knife when she was arrested.
According to a statement from acting commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Control Mark Morgan, officers “immediately disarmed Ferrier, secured the weapons, arrested her, and coordinated with the FBI for further investigation.”
The RCMP was called in to help investigate after American authorities found evidence the suspicious letter originated in Canada. Now, American and Canadian authorities believe a total of six letters were sent — one to the White House and five to Texas.
Here’s what we know, and don’t, so far.
The letter addressed to the White House and U.S. President Donald Trump was intercepted last week, before it reached its intended destination.
It was flagged on Sept. 18 by personnel at a government facility in Washington, D.C., that screens mail addressed to the White House and the U.S. president, according to the affidavit.
The letter, which was postmarked from Canada, was reviewed by the United States Secret Service, which contacted the FBI, the affidavit states.
The letter contained a “white, powdery material,” according to the affidavit, and a note that reads as follows:
“…I found a new name for you: ‘The Ugly Tyrant Clown’ I hope you like it. You ruin USA and lead them to disaster. I have US cousins, then I don’t want the next 4 years with you as president. Give up and remove your application for this election. So I made a ‘Special Gift’ for you to make a decision. The gift is in this letter. If it doesn’t work, I’ll find better recipe for another poison, or I might use my gun when I’ll be able to come. Enjoy! FREE REBEL SPIRIT.”
The letter was then analyzed by the FBI, which confirmed the presence of ricin.
Ricin is a potentially lethal poison derived from castor beans. If swallowed, inhaled or injected, the substance can cause nausea, vomiting, internal bleeding and ultimately organ failure.
No known antidote exists for ricin. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if a person is exposed to ricin, they could die within 36 to 72 hours, depending on the dose.
Police search in Quebec
On Monday morning, police teams descended on a home in Longueuil’s Saint-Hubert reportedly “linked” to the suspect.
The hours-long raid involved the RCMP, Canadian special operations forces and public health. One of Canada’s highly secretive military counter-terrorism units – the Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit (CJIRU) – was also on the scene. Members of the CJIRU are experts in chemical, biological and radiological threats.
Heavily armed officers in fatigues and officials in biohazard suits combed the apartment unit in what the RCMP described as an “intercept investigation.” The RCMP’s CBRNE (Chemical, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives team) was also involved in executing the search warrant at the multi-unit building on Vauquelin Boulevard.
“We can’t confirm that it’s actually her residence,” RCMP Cpl. Charles Poirier told reporters at the scene. “We know she’s linked to that address, but the nature of that link is yet to come.”
Read more: The deadly history of ricin
A source with knowledge of the investigation told Global News that authorities have been intercepting cellphone calls and using signals intelligence throughout the probe, and that there is interest in learning more about 13 people who have “shared interests” and have been in contact with each other.
In the affidavit, the FBI notes that the questioning of “individuals with Canadian connections recently arrested and incarcerated” in the San Antonio, Texas, area led them to Ferrier’s name.
Envelopes in U.S.
Other envelopes containing ricin were mailed to law enforcement agencies and detention facilities in Texas, including the police department in the city of Mission.
The other letters were received between Sept. 15 and 16. They also had stamps indicating that they were mailed from Canada and contained a “powdery substance,” the affidavit notes.
They “were addressed to individuals working at penitentiaries and detention centers in Texas” and “contained similar language to the letter sent to the president,” it reads.
Each contained the statement referencing, “if it doesn’t work I will find a better recipe.”
A spokesperson for the Mission police department confirmed it received a suspicious letter within the last week and that the letter was not opened, but promptly turned over to the FBI.
Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra tweeted late Monday that he and three of his staff had been mailed envelopes containing ricin. He said no one was hurt.
American authorities analyzed the letters for similarities, according to the affidavit, and concluded there were enough to suggest the letters were sent by the same person.
Fingerprints recovered on four of the letters recovered in Texas also “revealed a match” to the suspect, it said.
The suspect’s citizenship is still under question.
Several sources told Global News a final determination is still being made, as Ferrier was classified as a ‘U.S. person’ – someone who had American immigration status now or in the past, or is an American citizen.
The sources previously told Global News Sunday evening that senior officials believed she was an American citizen. They also confirmed she was carrying a gun when she was arrested, and that both Canadian and U.S. intelligence officials were aware of who this woman was.
However, two sources told Reuters that the woman has joint Canadian and French citizenship.
In 2019, someone with the same name, who is also reportedly from Quebec, was arrested in Texas on misdemeanour charges, according to the Hidalgo County jail booking records.
The FBI notes in the affidavit that some of the letters were addressed to people affiliated with the facilities where the suspect had been housed while imprisoned that year.
The woman was charged with two counts of unlawfully carrying a weapon and one count of tampering with a government record. She was released in May 2019.
A Twitter account showing the same name as the woman replied to a tweet asking someone to shoot Trump mere weeks before the U.S.-Canada border arrest.
“I just read this tweet. I agree… Nobody did anything… It’s time to change! #killtrump,” the Sept. 9 post reads.
The Twitter user follows 15 other accounts, all of which are related to U.S. and Canadian law enforcement agencies.
Among the accounts are U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Sûreté du Québec and Guerra.
Global News has not verified if the account belongs to the woman arrested in connection with the letters. However, posts on Twitter and Facebook which referenced ‘#killTrump’ were tied to an email address registered under the suspect’s name, according to the FBI’s affidavit.
The Trump administration has yet to comment on the reports.
Court and charges
Ferrier pleaded not guilty to charges in connection with the ricin-laced letters at an initial court appearance in Buffalo, N.Y. Tuesday afternoon.
An arrest warrant filed in U.S. district court indicates Ferrier is accused of threats against the president of the United States.
Ferrier will remain in custody until her next court appearance on Sept. 28 at 2 p.m. ET.
— With files from Global News’ Kerri Breen, Hannah Jackson and Mercedes Stephenson, and The Associated Press