Anthrax Scare AccountFirst hand account from inside the Education Center by Frenchi Jones
Military and civilian emergency responders converged at the Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith Army Education Center on Thursday afternoon in reference to a suspicious envelope that was found in a classroom on the upper floor of the building, according to a witnesses at the scene.
Frenchi Jones, a student and freelance writer for the Coastal Courier, was at the facility as the incident unfolded.
Jones said she and about 40 other people were inside the building at about 4:30 p.m. when she was told an envelope containing a white, powdery substance had been found in an upstairs classroom.
"The manager came downstairs and got all the directors from all the different colleges and said there was an emergency and they needed to guard all doors," she said.
Jones asked the manager about the emergency and was told about the envelope and that initial tests came back positive for anthrax - something that had not been confirmed by authorities.
While some people inside the center were relaying details to the Courier by cell phone, Fort Stewart officials were tight-lipped about what was taking place at the site.
"I don't have any details right now, but we do have the (Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield) fire department on site and no one's being allowed to go in the building," Fort Stewart spokesperson Kevin Larson said. "All I know is it's an incident. I don't know what's going on inside."
Jones reported people in the building had been detained for more than an hour. After that, only those in the immediate area of the upstairs classroom were barred from leaving.
Once outside, Jones saw about five people being taken to a decontamination area.
"They are bringing them out and going into the yellow tent with the people in white suits. They are getting ready to take all their stuff off. Oh, how embarrassing. They are giving them white, plastic bags to put their stuff in."
Another student, who identified himself as W.J. Powell, said students at Columbia College were taking finals at the time of the incident.
"Somebody might have decided to do this to interrupt the system," he said.
If that were the case, their efforts proved successful. All classes were canceled for the evening.Jones expressed dismay about the situation and was unsure whether it was safe to go home to her children.
She said she couldn't remember all the details about the anthrax cases that caught national attention following the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, and didn't want to risk exposing her children to it.
As of 7 p.m., there was no official confirmation a substance that tested positive for anthrax was found.
Staff members Andrea Washington and Patty Leon, and freelancer Frenchi Jones contributed to this article.