Since Daniel Milzman (COL ’16) was arrested for possessing a lethal quantity of ricin Friday, his friends and colleagues have slowly come to terms with the fact that the science student had been quietly concocting the biological toxin in his dorm room.
“Nothing ever would have led me to think that he would make a dangerous substance or do anything to hurt anybody. I’m extremely surprised by all of this and dismayed, but he was a great kid,” said Jan Denis, Milzman’s Quiz Bowl coach at Walt Whitman High School in Montgomery County, Md., which Milzman graduated from in 2012.
On Friday, Milzman, 19, was formally charged with possession of 123 milligrams of a white powdery substance, within which concentration of the toxin was 7.7 micrograms per milligram. Federal law enforcement seized the substance from Milzman’s dorm room on the sixth floor of McCarthy Hall early March 18.
In an interview with Federal Bureau of Investigation agents last Tuesday, Milzman reported that he had made the agent in his dorm room a month prior wearing goggles and a dust mask and using materials purchased at Home Depot and the American Plant Company after researching how to concoct the substance on his iPhone.
Milzman, who studies physics and math, has followed a pre-med track at Georgetown, set to follow in the footsteps of his father, Dave Milzman, who is the research director in the Department of Emergency Medicine at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and with whom Milzman has co-written two articles in the Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine. Dave Milzman and two brothers, Jesse Milzman (COL ’15) and Matt Milzman, a 2013 Georgetown graduate, did not respond to requests for comment.
“He seemed like a quiet, odd kid, but we’re physics majors so everyone’s like that,” said a fellow physics major, who requested anonymity.
Within the small department, classmates remarked that Milzman had begun to miss a noticeable number of classes over the past few months.
“He started missing a lot of classes midway through the semester. Our professor started asking about him a lot. If he wanted to hand back a problem set he would ask, ‘Has anyone seen Danny?’” another classmate said.
Fellow classmate Nevin Snow (COL ’16) also noticed Milzman’s frequent absences, though he attributed the ability to miss classes to Milzman’s intelligence.
“Those are the two defining things that I remember: he never showed up for class, and when he did it would only be for a test,” Snow said.
Milzman, who could face up to 10 years in prison for possession of the biological toxin, has also served as a tutor in the university’s Math Assistance Center, where one of his students, Arianna Petillo (MSB ’17), said he had been a skilled teacher.
“He seemed very sarcastic, but at the same time, it was just how he was; it wasn’t anything really malicious, I guess, and he was helpful with math,” Petillo said.
On campus, Milzman is a member of the Secular Student Association as well as the founder and captain of the university’s Quiz Bowl team.
Jim Coury (SFS ’15), a member of the Quiz Bowl team, praised Milzman’s leadership of the fledgling organization.
“He really took care of what needed to be taken care of, in terms of getting the club together and getting people together and getting things done,” Coury said.
Like much of campus, Coury was shocked by news of Milzman’s arrest Friday.
“He seemed normal,” Coury said. “I obviously didn’t see that coming. I guess I knew he was into science — he took a lot of science classes and stuff. Other than that, I had no idea.”
Milzman’s decision to pursue Quiz Bowl in college followed his participation in the activity in high school at Walt Whitman, where he was also a National Merit semifinalist and a member of the school’s hockey team.
Lilli Seabol (COL ’17), who first met Milzman when she joined Quiz Bowl last fall, said that after hearing about the possibility of ricin on campus, she never would have predicted that Milzman would be the student held responsible.
“He hadn’t been to Quiz Bowl in a couple days, a couple practices, but I just thought he was sick or something like that. I was really surprised when I found out,” she said.
Seabol described Milzman as a normal college student with a sense of humor.
“I thought he was just pretty average. He would make jokes a lot, and stuff like that, so he seemed pretty nice,” she said.
Josh Tsung (COL ’16), a friend of Milzman’s, agreed, praising Milzman for his intelligence and wit.
“Danny is a great friend and really knows how to brighten your day up. Those who knew him well will think about him every day,” Tsung wrote in an email.
Milzman will appear before U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia this afternoon for his detention hearing. He will be represented by Danny Onorato, a partner at Schertler & Onorato.
While Milzman has yet to face the Federal Court’s decision, he has already violated the Code of Student Conduct, according to university spokeswoman Stacy Kerr, and is not permitted on Georgetown’s campus at this time.
“An undergraduate has been arrested on a charge of possession of a biological toxin and remains in custody. He is not permitted to return to campus at this time. The possession or manufacturing of illegal substances are issues we take very seriously and are violations of the university’s … Code of [Student] Conduct,” Kerr wrote in an email. “We continue to closely cooperate with law enforcement authorities for this case.”
Hoya Staff Writer Molly Simio contributed reporting.