A Quebec woman suspected of sending a contaminated letter to the White House has been identified by many media outlets as Pascale Cécile Véronique Ferrier, 53, of St-Hubert.
The letter, possibly containing the poison ricin, was intercepted at a U.S. government facility that screens mail addressed to President Donald Trump, a law enforcement official told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity. No official at a law enforcement agency on either side of the border had confirmed the identity of the suspect by Monday evening.
Five other letters addressed to law enforcement agents in Hidalgo, Tex., were also intercepted.
On Monday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police executed a search warrant at a four-storey condo building in St-Hubert, just south of Montreal. RCMP spokesperson Corporal Charles Poirier said the Mounties were responding to a request from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation after a woman was arrested Sunday night as she tried to cross the U.S. border into Buffalo, N.Y.
“We have a big police operation underway, that started at 10 a.m..” Poirier told the Montreal Gazette at the scene. “The FBI asked for the RCMP’s assistance … to look into this residence after a total of six letters were received, one at the White House and five others in Texas.
“We know that a female suspect was arrested by our U.S. colleagues last night. She was arrested trying to cross from Canada into the United States in Buffalo, N.Y. There is a clear link between her and this residence that we are searching today,” Poirier said.
Poirier could not confirm the woman’s identity, whether she is Canadian nor whether she had been living in the building in St-Hubert.
“It is believed at this point that there was a highly toxic substance inside those packages. The word ricin has been mentioned. However, at this point, we are not taking any chances, hence the deployment we have here today.”
The RCMP’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives team (CBRNE), a specialized team composed of members of the RCMP and the Canadian Armed Forces, led the operation in St-Hubert. Longueuil police and the fire department were also on the scene Monday.
To ensure public safety, police evacuated some apartments on the fourth floor of the building where the one being searched was located, Poirier said. A section of Vauquelin Blvd. was closed to vehicular traffic for most of the day during the search. Poirier said approximately 50 members of the RCMP’s National Security team and the CBRNE team are involved.
In a statement, the FBI said there is “no known threat to public safety.”
RCMP spokesman Dan Brien said initial information from the investigation suggests the letter originated in Canada. Brien confirmed an analysis found the letter contained ricin, a toxic substance found naturally in castor beans. CNN posted an image of the envelope, clearly postmarked “H4T”, which would indicate it went through Montreal. That postal code corresponds to an industrial district of St-Laurent where Canada Post has a sorting facility.
Eddie Guerra, sheriff of Hidalgo County, tweeted on Monday afternoon that “envelopes, containing the deadly toxin ricin, (were) mailed to me and three of my detention staff. At this point due to an active federal investigation, I cannot make any further comments. … No injuries were sustained.”
A spokesman for the sheriff’s office, Sgt. Frank Medrano, said the envelopes arrived on Sept. 15 and turned over to U.S. federal authorities.
Another letter was sent to the chief of the Mission Police Department, in Mission, Texas, which is a city within Hidalgo County.
That letter, addressed to the police chief, was only discovered Monday morning when the department was asked to look for it by U.S. authorities, Investigator Art Flores of Mission police told National Post.
“She was detained or arrested, she admitted to somebody, I don’t know who, maybe the FBI agents, that there was nine letters sent out and one was addressed to the Mission Police Department,” Flores said.
The chief found the letter, which had not been opened.
“They came in, the FBI, and took custody of it,” he said.
The suspect was arrested Sunday night and taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the Peace Bridge border crossing in Fort Erie, Ont., and she is expected to be arraigned on federal charges on Tuesday.
Ferrier may have been in the U.S. as recently as March of 2019. Records from the Mission Police Department in Hidalgo County, Tex., show that a Pascale Ferrier of “Lavell, Qc” (possibly a misspelling of Laval) was charged with two counts of unlawful carrying of a weapon and one count of tampering with government records (using a false Texas driver’s licence), offences alleged to have occurred on March 12, 2019. The charges were dismissed after she spent 20 days in jail because it was her first offence.
Reuters news agency reported that two sources had confirmed the suspect has joint Canadian and French citizenship. Several news agencies have reported that the suspect was deported back to Canada after authorities discovered she had overstayed her six-month visa and had violated the terms of her passport by committing a crime while in the U.S.
A Twitter user who uses the name Pascale Ferrier, and the handle @pf1967, tweeted on Sept. 9, 2020 a message that read in part, “It’s time to change” and used the hashtag “#killtrump”.
However, the Montreal Gazette was not able to confirm the Twitter account belongs to the suspect, or to the Pascale Ferrier, 53, named in the Texas court documents.
A profile for a Pascale Ferrier on the social media site LinkedIn, with a profile photo that is very similar to a mugshot of Ferrier in the Mission police department records, describes her as a “Software Configuration Manager at Pratt & Whitney Canada chez Aerotek”. The profile describes Ferrier as “technocreative”, a web developer who likes challenges, with experience in public phone systems, mobile applications, digital television, infrared cameras, automotive diagnosis, and aircraft applications.
A Facebook page under the name “La Techno-Creative Nomade” links to a website for a web designer named Pascale Ferrier, and includes a video of a woman bearing a strong resemblance to the mug shot of Pascale Ferrier in the Texas court documents.
In that video, posted June 9, 2019, Ferrier is at the wheel of an RV, and says she is in Texarkana, Arkansas, on her way back to Canada from the U.S. On June 12, she posted from Chicago, on June 17, from Winnipeg, on June 29 from Ottawa and by July 1, 2019, she was back in Quebec.
According to that profile, Ferrier has worked with Aerotek, Pratt & Whitney from December 2019 to present. The Montreal Gazette’s calls to Pratt & Whitney and Aerotek were not returned.
The LinkedIn profile also has Ferrier working for CS Canada in the St-Laurent borough from December 2008 to October 2017, and before 2008 she seems to have worked as a software consultant for various software companies in France. Her CV notes that she also volunteered for a charity in Laval, making “friendly visits to a 99-year-old woman.”
In St-Hubert, now part of the merged city of Longueuil, neighbours of the building linked to the case expressed shock and concern.
“We don’t need idiocy like this in the world, especially when we are talking about a country we are already having some trouble with,” said Armando Sabilli, who lives in a nearby condo.
A woman who lives on the fourth floor of the building in question said she heard noise in the corridor around 9 p.m. Sunday night and she peered through the peep hole of her door to see men donning white suits. The next day before 10 a.m., Police officers arrived to tell her she had to get out.
“I didn’t sleep all night,” said the woman, who declined to give her name. She said has lived in the condo since May and was pleased that it was normally so quiet. She heard on the news Monday morning that the search was related to a contaminated envelope addressed to Trump. She said she does not know the person whose residence was being searched.
“This is not good news. I feel like I am on an episode of District 31,” she added, referring to a popular police TV drama on Radio-Canada.
“The fact that (the contaminated envelope) came from Longueuil doesn’t bother me more than if it had come from anywhere else in the world,” said Jacques Masson, a Longueuil resident who pedalled to the scene out of curiosity.
He said he doubts there is any organized anti-Trump movement in Longueuil. “It’s anecdotal for now, unless we learn more later, but for the moment it is one person, who happens to have stayed here, and surely not for long because it’s all new condos around here.”
There have been several prior instances in which U.S. officials have been targeted with ricin sent through the mail.
A Navy veteran was arrested in 2018 and confessed to sending envelopes to Trump and members of his administration that contained the substance from which ricin is derived. The letters were intercepted, and no one was hurt.
In 2014, a Mississippi man was sentenced to 25 years in prison after sending letters dusted with ricin to President Barack Obama and other officials.
With files from The Canadian Press, Frédéric Tomesco of the Montreal Gazette and Adrian Humphreys of the National Post.