Former classmates of Shannon Guess Richardson were stunned Friday as they heard the news that the former South Hall resident was charged in connection with mailing a ricin-tainted letter to President Barack Obama.
Shannon Holmes, who went to school with Richardson, then known as Shannon Rogers, said some of the woman’s local friends had already been questioned by the FBI as part of the investigation.
Holmes said she learned the news Friday morning when a friend sent her a text message.
“I was really in shock,” she said. “I knew she had lied about a few things ... She always played herself up, if that makes sense. She would make herself more than what she was, more for the attention, in my opinion.”
Richardson, 35, reportedly first told the FBI her husband had sent poison-laced letters to Obama and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
She appeared in a Texarkana, Texas, courtroom Friday after being charged with mailing a threatening communication to the president. The federal charge carries up to 10 years in prison, U.S. attorney’s office spokeswoman Davilyn Walston said. Her court-appointed attorney didn’t immediately return a message from the Associated Press seeking comment.
According to an FBI affidavit, Richardson contacted authorities on May 30 to implicate her husband. She later failed a polygraph test and investigators also found inconsistencies in her story, the document said. Richardson then admitted mailing the letters knowing they contained ricin, but said her husband had typed them and made her print and send them.
The letters threatened violence against gun-control advocates, authorities said.
No charges have been filed against her husband, Nathaniel Richardson. His attorney said the couple was going through a divorce and that the 33-year-old Army veteran may have been set up by his wife.
Holmes said Shannon Richardson had married Nathaniel Richardson a couple of years ago and moved to Texas from Jackson County.
Richardson, who is currently pregnant, is a mother of five children ranging in age from 4 to 19, according to John Delk, who represents Nathaniel Richardson. Four of the children had been living with the couple in Texas, the attorney said.
Holmes said Richardson’s oldest child was living in Jackson County.
Holmes said she went to school with Richardson from elementary to high school and they were close, hanging out and doing “typical high school stuff.” Richardson was in the band at West Hall and Holmes wasn’t; the two weren’t as close after 10th grade, she said. She lost touch after high school until running into Richardson in the mid-2000s as their children attended camp together.
Holmes said she thought Richardson was a pretty decent person until she started noticing lies.
“I don’t think as highly of her as I used to, but originally, when I had first seen her since high school I thought she was doing well,” Holmes said. “She looked good. And her boys are adorable. I thought she was a good mom.”
Richardson had done some modeling and was playing roles as movie and TV extras, Holmes said.
Richardson’s resume on the Internet Movie Database said she has had small television roles in “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Walking Dead.” She had a minor role in the movie “The Blind Side” and appeared in an Avis commercial, according to the resume.
FBI agents wearing hazardous material suits were seen going in and out of the Richardsons’ house on Wednesday in New Boston, Texas, about 150 miles northeast of Dallas near the Arkansas and Oklahoma borders. Officials have said the search was initiated after Richardson contacted the FBI and implicated her husband.
Delk told The Associated Press that his client was pleased with his wife’s arrest and was working with authorities to prove his innocence. Delk said he wasn’t anticipating that Nathanial Richardson would be arrested.
“But until I’m sure they’re not looking at him being involved, I can’t say much more,” he said.
The FBI is investigating at least three cases over the past two months in which ricin was mailed to Obama and other public figures. Ricin has been sent to officials sporadically over the years, but experts say there seems to be a recent uptick and that copycat attacks — made possible by the relative ease of extracting the poison — may be the reason.
If inhaled, ricin can cause respiratory failure, among other symptoms. If swallowed, it can shut down the liver and other organs, resulting in death. The amount of ricin that can fit on the head of a pin is said to be enough to kill an adult if properly prepared. No antidote is available, though researchers are trying to develop one.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.