The bespectacled widow appeared in the doorway of her home early yesterday, to all appearances bewildered by the battery of camera lenses pointed at her from the sidewalk. She stepped outside for a moment and then seemed to think better of it. Turning, the widow re-entered the house as quietly as she had emerged.
Diane Ivins, an avid gardener, former day-care provider and the mother of grown twins was, until yesterday, largely unknown to the wider world beyond Military Road here and the Army base, Fort Detrick, across the street where her husband worked.
But when the news broke that Bruce E. Ivins, to whom she had been married for 33 years, had committed suicide after being told by the FBI that he was about to be charged in the anthrax attacks of 2001 - and that another woman had been granted a restraining order against him only a few days earlier - his survivors were suddenly forced to choose between facing the news media or retreating into a metaphorical bunker.
The couple's son, Andy, who has a twin sister, told a reporter to get off his lawn. He then hopped on a motorbike with a friend and sped away. His mother remained inside the house - where a sign next to the front door said "Welcome" - and called police after another reporter knocked on her front door. She smiled wanly at the officers when they arrived.
"She's not going to answer your questions," Detective Sgt. Bruce DeGrange of the Frederick Police Department told the journalists after speaking with Diane Ivins in the doorway. "She understands that you guys have a job to do, but she doesn't want to be disturbed right now. She's a little upset by all the attention."
As a news helicopter hovered noisily above the Ivins house, John Helm, who lives on the other side of the base, walked by carrying a small digital camera. He pointed it at the phalanx of news crews and snapped a few pictures. "I've never seen anybody parked here before, particularly with all these cameras," said Helm, who wore an " N.C. State" T-shirt and works for the Environmental Protection Agency. "I'll have to record it for posterity."
Helm, who at 62 is the same age Ivins was when he died on Tuesday, said he had "missed all the commotion the first time," referring to the furor over Steven Hatfill, another scientist at the Fort Detrick laboratory, who lived near Ivins and who had been identified as a "person of interest" in the investigation before receiving a settlement from the federal government.
Asked whether he was surprised that a second scientist from the area had been the subject of a federal investigation, Helm said, "We rarely know what our neighbors do."
Across the street from the row of modest houses that line Military Road - most of them red-brick structures built around World War II - lies the base, protected by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. In 1991, at the resident's request, base officials ordered the planting of rows of spruces and pines along the edge of the street to hide the site's more unattractive physical aspects from the rest of the neighborhood. Still plainly visible, though, is a huge, white water tower inscribed with the words, "Ft. Detrick - A Community of Excellence."
In the Ivins driveway, a newspaper lay on the ground, still in its plastic wrapper. A few feet away was the red Dodge Ram 1500 minivan the family used to take to the children's swim meets, and two blue sedans, a Saturn and a Honda, the latter without license plates. A motorcycle stood outside a ramshackle shed, near a green garden chair and a stump for chopping wood.
A huge oak tree on the front lawn provided shade for the reporters and photographers as they waited for something - anything - to happen. On a front door down the street, a neighbor's handwritten sign was explicit: "No Comment - Do Not Disturb!!"