On July 29, 2008, he died of an overdose of Tylenol with codeine in an apparent suicide after learning that criminal charges were likely to be filed against him by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for an alleged criminal connection to the 2001 anthrax attacks. No formal charges were ever actually filed against him for the crime, and no direct evidence of his involvement has been uncovered.
At a news conference at the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) on August 6, 2008, FBI and DOJ officials formally announced that the Government had concluded that Ivins was likely solely responsible for "the deaths of five persons, and the injury of dozens of others, resulting from the mailings of several anonymous letters to members of Congress and members of the media in September and October 2001, which letters contained Bacillus anthracis, commonly referred to as anthrax." On February 19, 2010, the FBI released a 92-page summary of evidence against Ivins and announced that it had concluded its investigation. The FBI conclusions have been contested by many, including senior microbiologists, the widow of one of the victims, and several prominent American politicians. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) who was among the targets in the attack, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), former Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), and Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) all argued that Ivins was not solely responsible for the attacks.
The FBI subsequently requested a panel from the National Academy of Sciences to review its scientific work on the case. On May 15, 2011, the panel released its findings, which "conclude that the bureau overstated the strength of genetic analysis linking the mailed anthrax to a supply kept by Bruce E. Ivins." The committee stated that its primary finding was that "it is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the B. anthracis in the mailings based on the available scientific evidence alone."
Bruce Ivins was born, and spent his youth, in Lebanon, Ohio, a small town 30 miles northeast of Cincinnati. His parents were Thomas Randall Ivins and Mary Johnson (nee Knight) Ivins, and he was the youngest of three brothers. His father, a pharmacist, owned a drugstore and was active in the local Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce. The family went regularly to Lebanon Presbyterian Church, although Ivins was later a Catholic parishioner. According to C.W. Ivins, one of Ivins' older brothers, their mother Mary was violent and physically abusive to all three children. When she discovered she was pregnant with Bruce, a pregnancy that was unplanned and unwanted, she repeatedly tried to abort the child by throwing herself down a set of stairs. Ivins would eventually hear the story of his mother's attempt to abort him.
Avidly interested in science, Ivins was an active participant in extracurricular activities in high school, including National Honor Society, science fairs, the current events club, and the scholarship team all four years. He ran on the track and cross-country teams, worked on the yearbook and school newspaper, and was in the school choir and junior and senior class plays.