A Georgetown University student has been charged with possessing the powerful toxin ricin after it was discovered in his dorm room this week, according to court documents.
Daniel Harry Milzman, 19, of Bethesda is facing federal charges for possession of more than 120 milligrams of the poison a potentially lethal amount.
Milzman on Monday informed his residential adviser at Georgetown's McCarthy Hall that he had created ricin and showed the adviser a plastic bag containing what he claimed was the substance, court documents say.
The residential adviser notified school counselors, who alerted police. The incident forced the evacuation of McCarthy Hall as investigators combed through Milzman's room and made sure the dormitory was safe.
"Based on our investigation, we do not believe there is any connection to terrorism," said Andrew Ames, a spokesman for the FBI's Washington Field Office. He declined to discuss Milzman's motivation for possessing the toxin.
Friends described Milzman as a bright student who was a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist in high school and was on the quiz bowl team. He was part of a group called the Secular Student Alliance at Georgetown, and a friend said he has a "good heart and a good conscience."
Milzman appeared in U.S. District Court in the District on Friday afternoon. He was ordered held pending a detention hearing scheduled for Tuesday. Danny Onorato, an attorney who is working with the Milzman family, declined to comment. Family members did not return calls for comment.
Milzman told FBI investigators after his arrest that he made the ricin in his dorm room about a month ago using materials that he got from local stores, including Home Depot and American Plant Co., court papers say.
During the production, he wore goggles and a dust mask, which authorities later found in the room, according to the court documents. Milzman told investigators that his roommate was not in the room when he made the ricin. He stored the toxin in plastic bags secured with hockey tape.
Ricin, which is produced from castor beans, can cause respiratory failure and organ dysfunction.
"It is relatively easy to make a crude version of ricin," said Milton Leitenberg, a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland. "But it is very difficult to make a good-quality, pure ricin protein."
Georgetown University officials said in an email to students that there was no danger to the school community. Officials have received no reports of anyone being sickened by the ricin. Typically, victims present symptoms within 24 hours of exposure.
University officials said tests did not find the toxin in any other part of the dorm, which houses about 290 students. The school hired contractors to clean the sixth-floor dorm room where the ricin was found. McCarthy Hall has since reopened.
Milzman graduated from Bethesda's Walt Whitman High School in 2012, said Dana Tofig, a spokesman for Montgomery County public schools.
Milzman wasn't the ace of Whitman's quiz bowl team, but the red-headed hockey player stood out among others because he was always chatting, always cracking jokes, said Jan Danis, who coached the team for a time when Milzman was on it.
"It was just lively," said Danis, 68, of Bethesda, who retired from coaching in 2011. "He always had something to say."
Danis said that Milzman seemed to show a particular affinity for English, although she could not recall whether he ever talked specifically about his college or career plans, and he played on the school's hockey team.
She said everyone assumed he would go to Georgetown, where his father worked.
Her overall experience with Milzman, Danis said, was a positive one. Had he asked her for a letter of recommendation, she said she would have offered one.
Danis said that she had not kept in touch with Milzman since she left Whitman, and she was surprised to learn that authorities said he had made ricin.
"It does seem like some kind of cry for help. I mean, what would be the point of doing it?" she said. "That doesn't make any sense. I can't imagine that he would go use it."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun