FBI: Woman tried to poison residents at Wake Robin

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BURLINGTON — A woman is facing a federal charge after investigators discovered the poison ricin in her home at her Shelburne retirement community on Monday.

Betty Miller, who lived in the Wake Robin retirement community, is expected to make an initial appearance in U.S. District court Friday afternoon. She is charged with knowingly possessing an unregistered biological agent.

FBI investigators say she used instructions printed from the Internet to make ricin, an extremely toxic poison, out of castor beans picked from a garden at Wake Robin.

Miller allegedly told investigators and state health officials that she attempted to poison other Wake Robin residents using the homemade ricin. The woman told an FBI agent she was hoping to test its effectiveness on the other residents by placing it on food or in beverages she expected them to consume on at least three occasions in the past several weeks.

The agent said Miller "indicated her goal was to injure herself," but that she first wanted to test the ricin on others.

State health officials say no one is currently ill with ricin poisoning, but that their investigation has revealed one Wake Robin resident reported becoming ill recently.

"No one is ill with ricin poisoning, and the danger for those who could have been exposed is over," said Ben Truman, a Health Department spokesman.

It's still not clear if the illness discovered in their investigation was actually the result of ricin poisoning. No other cases of ricin poisoning have been discovered or reported in recent weeks through Vermont's illness surveillance system or by emergency responders, Truman said.

Symptoms of ricin exposure typically occur within four to 10 hours and can include difficulty breathing, fever, cough, nausea, heavy sweating and tightness in the chest. Respiratory failure can result from inhalation of ricin. Ingestion of the poison causes vomiting, bloody diarrhea and hallucinations, according to health officials.

Emergency responders wearing full protective gear recovered half a tablespoon of ricin and some castor beans in a basket stored in a kitchen cabinet above Miller's stove. In total, investigators said they believe she picked 30 to 40 castor beans and made two to three tablespoons of ricin following the online instructions.

The Health Department said Wednesday that its laboratory had confirmed the substance discovered in Miller's home was ricin.

Truman said department officials continue to work closely with Wake Robin administrators to ensure the health and safety of residents. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine met with staff and residents to discuss the situation and answer questions, he said.

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