Former Northeastern employee arrested in campus bomb hoax

Duhaime, who has vehemently denied staging the explosion, was apprehended in the Western District of Texas, records show. It was not immediately clear when he would appear in court. He was hired as the new chief technology officer and director of the Immersive Media Lab at Northeastern at the time of the incident, but the school said Tuesday that he no longer works for the university.

“This alleged conduct is disturbing, to say the least,” U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said 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 follow.”

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 on 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 campus around 1 p.m. 19.00 on the evening in question.

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

A busy, typed, one-page 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 U.S. government and referred to robots roaming the campuses of Northeastern and MIT.

Duhaime told authorities the letter had come from inside the case when it exploded, the person said, even though 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, supporting faculty and students,” he said. “This is crazy. . . . I can’t believe people are spreading rumors about this.”

An FBI affidavit filed in the case said Duhaime, hired as the new chief technology officer and director of the Immersive Media Lab at Northeastern, called 911 and reported he was injured by sharp objects that flew out of the plastic casing when he opened it inside in the laboratory. .

He also reported that the file 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 that “DUHAIME himself wrote the threatening letter. I believes, based on the ongoing investigation, that the case contained no “sharp” objects, that no objects were expelled from the case when DUHAIME opened it, and that DUHAIME did not sustain any injuries as a result of opening the case.”

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

“The interior and exterior of the case had no marks, dents, cracks, holes, or other signs that it had been subjected to a powerful or explosive discharge of any kind or magnitude,” the statement said. Likewise, apart from several fold marks, the letter was untouched. It bore no tears, holes, burn marks or other signs of having been near any kind of powerful or explosive discharge.”

The filing also included a photo of the typed letter Duhaime said 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’re working with Mr. Mark Zuckerberg and the US Government!!!!”

On 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, indicating the letter had been created the afternoon after the alleged explosion.

The filing said Duhaime lifted his sleeves to a responding Northeast officer to reveal several small, superficial marks and bruises on his forearms. However, his shirt did not appear to be damaged, the suit states.

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

Duhaime also spoke with investigators while 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 fly out,” he told authorities, according to the affidavit. “And I had a long-sleeved shirt and they flew up from underneath and hit my arm. The thing went up and then it fell.”

He also said, “I put it up – the locks – and then I started to open it. And then I don’t know how wide it was open, but all the damn air, pressure, (pronounced) came flying out, like, and these little things—I felt them. I didn’t necessarily see them because it was dark, but they were the ones that hit me.”

Duhaime, told it was a crime to lie to investigators, insisted he wasn’t fooling around, the affidavit said.

“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, recounted what happened when Duhaime went into a closet to open the package.

“Shortly after DUHAIME entered the closet, DUHAIME yelled and then left the closet within seconds,” the affidavit said. “Student No. 1 heard no other sounds coming from inside the locker than DUHAIME’s voice.”

In a separate statement Tuesday, Northeastern thanked the various law enforcement agencies that worked on the case.

“Knowing what we know now about this incident, we want to make it clear that there was never any danger to the Northeast 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 at Northeastern.”

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


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

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