Lab analyzes threatening letter in search for culprit

JOHNSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — As police officers remained stationed at schools in three Rhode Island communities Thursday, the investigation into who sent a letter threatening to harm students in Johnston, Warwick and Cranston is progressing.

According to Johnston Deputy Chief Daniel Parrillo, detectives from the three communities have met with the Postal Inspector’s Office and Rhode Island State Police. Eyewitness News has also learned the FBI is involved in the investigation.

Johnston Police Chief Richard Tamburini said Thursday they’re looking at several individuals – some of whom are students, others are not. He also said their investigation extends beyond the Rhode Island borders.

“We’re working very hard on this. Our phone is ringing off the hook, and we’re thankful for that because the public has always been our eyes and ears,” Tamburini said.

Eyewitness News has learned from investigators the letter – which was sent to the Johnston Police Department Tuesday – was one page, handwritten, and sent via traditional mail.

The investigation revealed that the writer tried to disguise his or her handwriting while penning the letter, one detective said.

The state crime lab has already analyzed the letter, and it’s been returned to Johnston police. In order to try and find fingerprints on the days-old evidence, examiners had to use a variety of chemicals and special lighting.

“Fingerprints are mostly water, amino acids, and fatty oils, so by the time we get it it’s probably several days old, and most of the water has evaporated,” said Dennis Hilliard of the RI State Crime Laboratory.

If a print is found and police have a suspect, the crime lab can compare the prints. If there’s no match, the examiner will then run the unknown print through a database that will compare the prints from criminals in the area.

“What the computer will do is look at the print in a mathematical way and compare it to the thousands and thousands of prints in the system,” Hilliard explained. “Then they’ll come back and give you a list.”

Whenever a match is found, two examiners at the lab have to sign off on it.

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