Earlier this year, a Los Feliz composer and Francophile ran a personal ad in a Paris newspaper in search of a pen pal. He’s still looking, although two weeks ago, a
mysterious letter with no return address arrived for him at his local post office. Intrigued by the postmark from an upscale Paris district, the composer opened the letter as he walked home. A white powder spewed onto his shirt and sidewalk. Inside, the LAPD confirmed, he found a threatening note that mentioned Osama bin Laden. Authorities would say nothing more about the note.

A lab test showed the substance was not anthrax, but the sidewalk scare left the man, who asked that his name not be used, along with a passerby, Michael Thomas, alarmed by the hoax and what they considered a slow police response. Thomas said he made several 911 calls over the course of an hour. Finally police cars, an L.A. Fire Department hazardous-materials unit and even the FBI showed up. Several cursory field tests, including water and chemical tests, suggested the substance was not anthrax; eight days later, Thomas said, he was notified that the lab results definitively ruled out the possibility of anthrax. In the meantime, he had started taking Ciprofloxacin, a powerful antibiotic that kills the bacteria.

Thomas criticized the authorities for their seeming lack of concern. At one point, Thomas said, he couldn’t get an LAPD officer to tell him when the lab test would be done. Instead, he was told, “If you experience flu-like symptoms over the next few days, go see a doctor.”

Public agencies in the L.A. area have been flooded with hundreds of calls from residents concerned about “suspicious substances.” A white powder reported in front of a construction site turned out to be dust from a crew installing dry wall. In another incident, white powder on a handrail at Denny’s turned out to be sugar. The Los Feliz incident was more serious, and investigators are trying to determine who may have sent the threatening package.

LAPD Sergeant John Pasquariello concedes the Los Feliz scare may not have been handled perfectly. After all, before authorities got there, several passersby had walked through the white powder on the sidewalk. “This is an evolving learning process for everybody,” Pasquariello said.

Meanwhile, the Los Feliz composer has retreated to his home and is trying to forget about the whole thing. “I was very traumatized by the experience,” he said. “I wish the whole thing would just go away.”

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