Former Northeastern employee arrested in bomb hoax incident on campus

Duhaime, who has fiercely denied staging the explosion, was apprehended in the western district of Texas, records show. It wasn’t immediately clear when he’ll make his first court appearance. He was employed at the time of the incident as the new technology manager and director of the Immersive Media Lab at Northeastern, but the school said Tuesday that he is no longer working for the university.

“This alleged conduct is disturbing to say the least,” said US Attorney Rachael Rollins during a briefing. “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.”

Her words were echoed by Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston office.

“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,” Bonavolonta said. ” … Duhaime’s arrest should be a warning to everyone that this is not a game and threats like these are not a joke.”

Law enforcement officials said Duhaime told them he injured his hand during the incident, which drew heavily armed police to the Holmes building on the campus around 7 pm on the night in question.

Two law enforcement officials briefed on the investigation told the Globe they had become skeptical because of inconsistencies in his story. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment.

A rambling, one-page typewritten letter was also found at the scene, one of the law enforcement officials told the Globe. It accused the university of working with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the US government and referred to robots walking around the campuses at Northeastern and MIT.

Duhaime told authorities the letter had come from inside the case when it exploded, the person said, although it was neatly folded and undamaged.

In a Globe interview last month, Duhaime said he has valued his interactions with students at Northeastern through his role maintaining the virtual reality equipment and classroom.

“I love the college. I’ve worked there for eight years, and supported faculty and students,” he said. “This is crazy. . . . I cannot believe people are spreading rumors about this.”

An FBI affidavit filed in the case said Duhaime, employed as the new technology manager and director of the Immersive Media Lab at Northeastern, called 911 reporting that he was injured by sharp objects that flew out of the plastic case when he opened it inside the lab .

He also reported that the case contained a threatening letter directed at the lab that was authored by an unknown person or persons, the filing said.

“I have probable cause to believe that certain information provided by DUHAIME to the 911 operator and to the federal agent … was fabricated by DUHAIME,” the affidavit said, adding that the evidence indicates “DUHAIME himself authored the threatening letter. I believe, based on the ongoing investigation, that the Subject Case contained no “sharp” objects, that no objects were expelled from the case when DUHAIME opened it, and that DUHAIME sustained no injuries as a result of opening the Subject Case.”

Duhaime’s 911 call drew a heavy law enforcement response to campus including two bomb squads, and multiple buildings were evacuated, per the filing.

“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 affidavit said. “Likewise, aside from several fold marks, the Letter was pristine. It bore no tears, holes, burn marks, or any other indication that it had been near any sort of forceful or explosive discharge.”

The filing also included a photo of the type-written letter that Duhaime said had exploded out of the case, which said in part that “this VR lab is trying to change us as a world” and that “We know you are working with Mr . Mark Zuckerberg and the US Government!!!!”

Wed Sept. 28, the affidavit said, investigators searched Duhaime’s computer and found a “word-for-word, electronic copy” of the letter stored in a backup folder, which indicated the letter had been created the afternoon of the alleged explosion.

The filing said Duhaime lifted his sleeves for a responding Northeastern officer to reveal several small, superficial marks and bruises on his lower forearms. His shirt, however, did not appear damaged, the filing said.

“Although DUHAIME said that ‘sharp’ objects had been ejected from the Subject Case inside the closet, the bomb technicians did not observe any small objects or suspicious debris on the floor or elsewhere,” the filing said.

Duhaime also spoke to investigators while he was being treated at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He related what he said happened when he opened the Pelican case.

“And as soon as I opened it up, all this energy and, like, these things come flying out,” he told authorities, per the affidavit. “And I had a long sleeve shirt, and they flew up underneath, basically, and hit my arm. The case went up and then it came down.”

He also said, “I popped it – the latches – and then I started to open it up. And then I don’t know how much it was open, but all this freakin’ air, pressure, (expletive) came flying out, like, and these little things – I felt them. I didn’t necessarily see them ’cause it was dark, but they were, they hit me.”

Duhaime, told it was a crime to lie to investigators, insisted he wasn’t fibbing, the affidavit stated.

“I’m telling you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God,” Duhaime said, according to the document.

The feds also interviewed a student who was working with Duhaime at the time of the incident. The student, identified in court papers as Student 1, relayed what happened when Duhaime entered a closet to open the package.

“Shortly after DUHAIME entered the closet, DUHAIME yelled and then—within seconds—exited the closet,” the affidavit said. “Student #1 did not hear any noises coming from inside the closet other than DUHAIME’s voice.”

Boston police Commissioner Michael Cox noted during Tuesday’s briefing that law enforcement works to address both crime and the fear of crime.

“There’s no better example of that [than] this particular case,” Cox said. ” … These cases are not easy. They’re difficult and they [involve] far more resources than a local police department can typically do.” He said Duhaime’s arrest “should dissuade anybody out there from doing anything like this.”

In a separate statement Tuesday, Northeastern thanked the law enforcement agencies who worked the case.

“Knowing what we know now about this incident, we would like to make it clear that there was never any danger to the Northeastern community,” the statement said. “As always, the safety of our students, faculty, and staff is our highest priority. The university does not comment on personnel matters, but we can confirm that Mr. Duhaime is no longer employed by Northeastern.”

Material from previous Globe stories was used. This story will be updated.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.

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