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In-house theft of radiocative materials ends in jail.

Nigel Morris-Co...

27 year old Jared Trent Atkins, of Phoenix, Arizona, USA used Iridium-192 in his work where it was used, in sealed capsules, to examine underground pipes. For reasons not made public, he became suicidal and stole some of the material. But first he committed several acts of violence unrelated to the theft of the material. All signs were that he was setting up a situation where he could invite "suicide by cop," as the USA entertainingly puts it. There is nothing entertaining about the spiral of behaviour in this case.

Early in the morning of 28th April, 2019, Atkins drove fro his home and stopped at a filling station where he stabbed the cashier working there. There is no indication in the public records of what led to that.

From there, he drove to his workplace where he stole three capsules containing the radioactive material and the tools necessary to open the capsules. Then he left his workplace and an hour later set fire to a car at a dealership in Mesa. Again, there is no indication as to why he did that. Next, he sent text messages to colleagues telling them he had the capsules and telling them that they should stay at home until they had been recovered.

His plans were, apparently, fluid. First he thought he might "make his last stand" at the Scottsdale shopping centre.

Instead, he drove to a district called Mt. Ord and telephoned his family. The FBI say that the purpose of that call was to say "goodbye."

At that point, Atkins opened one of the capsules, expecting that it would kill him. "For unknown reasons, however, Atkins closed the radiological device and returned to Phoenix," the FBI said in a statement.

It is here that the tenor of the authorities is made clear: clearly in a highly emotional state, Atkins was not behaving at all rationally. Yet the authorities set the scene as if he intended widespread harm. "Atkins planned to commit suicide by irradiation, knowing he would harm anyone who tried to stop or arrest him."

Atkins drove home, still in possession of both the knife used to stab the filling station cashier and the sealed capsules. There he barricaded himself in his apartment. After two hours of what are termed "negotiations" Atkins surrendered without further incident.

He pleaded guilty to Arizona state charges of aggravated assault and arson and sentenced to three and a half years in jail. None of that is surprising.

But the Federal charges seem like - and we use the term deliberately - overkill.

He was charged and pleaded guilty to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. Sentencing was in March 2021 and he was sentenced to 15 years in jail plus 12 years of supervised release.

There is no mention of any mental health assessment. Moreover, there is no evidence that he intended harm to come to anyone but himself as a result of the opening of the capsules - although it is clear that he was reckless in that regard.

There is no indication that he has any prior criminal record.

It is, on the face of the Department of Justice's own statements, an example of how a suicidal and distressed person has been treated from the outset as if he was a terrorist. The issue is not the sentence - it's that the system seems to have been utterly heartless and shown to be so by its own words.

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