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Originally published January 7, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 7, 2009 at 11:40 AM

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11 gay bars get letters threatening ricin attacks

Eleven gay bars in Seattle were sent letters Tuesday threatening ricin attacks — in what some are describing as a hate crime. The Seattle Police Department said it takes the threat seriously. The department has seized the letters and is processing them, and is coordinating efforts with the FBI and other federal agencies.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Eleven gay bars in Seattle were sent letters Tuesday threatening ricin attacks — in what some are describing as a hate crime.

The anonymous letters say, "I have in my possession approximately 67 grams of ricin with which I will indiscriminately target at least five of your clients. ... I expect them to die painfully while in hospital."

A 12th letter was sent to the alternative weekly The Stranger, according to its Web site. That letter says the paper should be "prepared to announce the deaths of approximately 55 individuals."

The letter lists the bars as: The Elite, Neighbours, The Wildrose Bar, The Cuff, Purr, The Seattle Eagle, R Place, Re-bar, C.C.Attle's, Madison Pub and The Crescent. The letter implies the attacks will take place one Saturday this month.

In a statement, the Seattle Police Department said it takes the threat seriously. It has seized the letters and is processing them and is coordinating efforts with the FBI and other federal agencies.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says ricin is a poison found naturally in castor beans that can be deadly if purified and then ingested or inhaled.

Dan Giroux, a bartender at The Elite, said he read the contents of the letter through the envelope with a flashlight after being warned not to open it and found the experience "a little horrifying."

"I expect to feel safe at work. Being here is like being at your house. But this doesn't make you feel safe," he said.

Elite manager Kay Hansen said the bar has been informing customers of the threat and warning them to make sure they don't leave their drinks unattended: "On the one hand you don't want to overreact, but on the other hand, you want to make sure your staff and clients are safe."

Stranger editorial director Dan Savage said he didn't take the threat too seriously: "I get a death threat a day with Savage Love," he said, referring to a sex column he writes.

Savage said the letters didn't contain any religious references, making him wonder whether the author was an embittered gay person. He said that if the threat were designed to ruin business for gay bars, it may backfire. Staffers from The Stranger made a point of visiting gay bars Tuesday night to show their support, he said, and others may be inspired to do the same.

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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