University employee charged in campus bomb hoax

Published: Oct. 4, 2022 at 11:56 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 4, 2022 at 12:55 PM CDT
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BOSTON (AP) — A former Northeastern University employee who said he was injured when a package he was opening on the Boston campus exploded last month was charged Tuesday with fabricating the incident.

Jason Duhaime, formerly the new technology manager and director of the university’s Immersive Media Lab, was charged with “conveying false and misleading information related to an explosive device” and then lying to federal investigators, federal authorities said.

“This alleged conduct is disturbing to say the least,” U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said at a news conference. “Our city, more than most, knows all too well that a report or threat of an explosion is a very serious matter and necessitates an immediate and significant law enforcement response, given the potential devastation that can ensue.”

Duhaime told investigators that the hard plastic case exploded when he opened it on Sept. 13, causing “sharp” objects to fly from the case and injure his arms, but his arms only had superficial marks and there was no damage to his shirt, investigators said.

According to an FBI affidavit, “The inside and outside of the case did not bear any marks, dents, cracks, holes, or other signs that it had been exposed to a forceful or explosive discharge of any type or magnitude.”

The case also contained a rambling typed note full of misspellings and exclamation points that railed against virtual reality, referenced Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and threatened to “destroy” the lab.

“It has come to our attention that this VR lab is trying to change us as a world,” the note said.

The letter also said: “We know you are working with Mr. Mark Zuckerberg and the U.S. government.”

It later said: “We know you are working on a secret flying project to scan buildings across the world so Mark can take over google maps,” and “the robots your (sic) building are walking around NEU, MIT and into Harvard yard.”

The FBI affidavit said the letter was “pristine” and “bore no tears, holes, burn marks, or any other indication that it had been near any sort of forceful or explosive discharge.”

Investigators also discovered a word-for-word, electronic copy of the letter stored in a backup folder on a university computer in Duhaime’s office that had been written just hours before he called 911.

Authorities said they could not comment on the specific motive because of the ongoing investigation.

“In this case, we believe Mr. Duhaime wanted to be the victim but instead victimized his entire community by instilling fear at college campuses in Massachusetts and beyond,” Joseph Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Boston office said.

Duhaime, who lives in Texas, was scheduled to make an initial court appearance Tuesday afternoon in San Antonio.

An attorney for Duhaime did not immediately respond to a telephone message and an email seeking comment. Duhaime has previously denied staging the incident, saying in an interview with The Boston Globe that it was “very traumatic.”

“I did not stage this … No way, shape or form ... they need to catch the guy that did this,” he told the newspaper.

Northeastern is a private university with about 16,000 students. The school in a statement Tuesday said Duhaime no longer works there.

The reported explosion led to swarms of police including two bomb squads descending on the school, forced the evacuation of several campus buildings, and put the campus on edge even after reassurances from the school that it was safe.

“His alleged actions diverted significant law enforcement resources away from essential public safety matters and caused fear and panic not only on campus, but also in the homes of the families and friends and loved ones of Northeastern students, faculty and staff,” Rollins said.

It marked one of the first big scares in Boston since 2013, when two bombs planted near the finish line of the Boston Marathon killed three spectators and wounded more than 260 others.