FBI: 70-year-old Poisoned Residents at Retirement Home with Weapon of Mass Destruction
BURLINGTON, Vermont — A 70-year-old woman was arrested Thursday after the FBI said she was making poison that is considered a weapon of mass destruction in her retirement home residence and attempting to infect other residents.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI announced the arrest of Betty Miller on a federal criminal complaint charging her with unregistered possession of a hazardous substance, ricin. Ricin is a highly toxic substance that only takes a few grains the size of table salt to kill a human.
Miller first appeared in Burlington federal court Friday and will remain in custody until her probable cause hearing Dec. 6.
The FBI and Vermont law enforcement first responded to Wake Robin life care community Nov. 28 after learning of a potentially hazardous substance on the premises.
Authorities say they found a bottled labeled “ricin” in Miller’s residence. The Vermont Forensic Lab confirmed that the bottle did in fact contain ricin, a toxin considered to be a weapon of mass destruction by the federal government due to the severe threat to public health it poses.
Later in the evening of Nov. 28, authorities interviewed Miller at the UVM Medical Center. During the interview, authorities said Miller stated she “had an interest in plant-based poison and had conducted internet research on how to make them.”
According to a release from the USAO and the FBI, “(Miller) stated that she manufactured ricin in the kitchen of her Wake Robin residence and, to test its potency, placed the ricin in the food or beverages of other residents.”
On Nov. 30, FBI agents with special training relating to hazardous material conducted searches of Wake Robin and Miller’s vehicle. Authorities say the search revealed no ricin or other hazardous material outside of Miller’s residence.
“Inside Miller’s residence, the FBI located ricin, along with components from a number of plants, including apple, yew, cherry, castor and foxglove, which all can be used to produce toxins."
If inhaled, ricin causes difficulty breathing and other symptoms. If ingested, symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, hallucinations, and seizures. Initial symptoms of ricin poisoning are most likely to occur within four to 10 hours of exposure.
If convicted, Miller could face up to five years in prison.
The USAO and FBI stressed that any threat posed by the substances in Miller’s apartment has been neutralized. There have been no fatalities. The Wake Robin community has cooperated with the FBI and state health officials to ensure all of its residents are safe.
Wake Robin said in a statement Friday that one apartment was closed off and that the resident living there will not return."We have received assurances from the Vermont Department of Health and the FBI that no one's health is at risk," it said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.