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Former Northeastern employee arrested and charged with faking a bomb blast on campus

A general view of the campus as law enforcement agencies respond after a package was said to be delivered to Holmes Hall at Northeastern University and reported to have exploded, in Boston, Sept. 13, 2022.
A general view of the campus as law enforcement agencies respond after a package was said to be delivered to Holmes Hall at Northeastern University and reported to have exploded, in Boston, Sept. 13, 2022.

A Texas man has been arrested in connection with what authorities say was a false claim about an explosion at a virtual reality lab at Northeastern University in Boston last month.

The alleged hoax triggered a massive response from law enforcement, including Boston Police and FBI bomb squads, and it forced the evacuation of a large part of the campus. But authorities say the whole thing was a hoax perpetrated by 45-year-old Jason Duhaime, who worked at the lab.

Duhaime, who was then the new technology manager and director of the
Immersive Media Lab at Northeastern University, allegedly called 911 on Sept. 13 to report that a package had blown up in the lab and injured him.

He repeated the story to investigators, according to the affidavit, saying that he opened a hard plastic case that came in the mail, and "all this energy, and like these things come flying out."

But authorities say there were no signs of an explosion and his injuries were suspicious. Later, investigators say they discovered that a copy of a letter Duhaime said came with the bomb had been created on his own computer earlier that day.

"Mr. Duhaime wanted to be the victim, but instead victimized his entire community by instilling fear at college campuses in Massachusetts and beyond," said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division.

Duhaime, who denied staging the explosion when questioned by authorities, was arrested without incident in San Antonio, Texas, and is being charged with one federal count of conveying false information and hoaxes related to an explosive device, and one count of making materially false statements to a federal law enforcement agent.

He faces up to five years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count, and authorities say more charges may be forthcoming.

Duhaime no longer works for Northeastern, according to officials.

Authorities declined to speak about a motive, but they released a copy of the rambling and threatening letter Duhaine is said to have written.

"It has come to our attention that this VR lab is trying to change us as a world!" it reads. "Trying to get us to live in a world that we only communicate through headsets and live in a called the METAVERSE! ... You are trying to change the fabric of the ideology of a peoplee (SIC)."

The letter continues, " You are not the creator!!!!!!!! You think you are!!! We know you are the anti-christ sent to this world to change everything!!! We will stop you!!!"

The letter also rambles on about an alleged secret plot with Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the government and academic institutions to "destroy US all AS A SOCITY. [sic]"

It ends with a threat to destroy the labs, if they are not shut down within two months.

Authorities said the federal charges against Duhaine should serve as a warning to others.

"Making false threats is not some harmless prank. It's selfish, shortsighted and a federal crime," said Bonavolanta. "Anyone sitting behind their keyboard" contemplating a similar hoax should "consider whether you really want to end up in handcuffs."

"This is not a game. And threats like this are not a joke," he said.

U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said it was especially sensitive in Boston, the city rocked by the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing that killed three people and injured hundreds.

"Our city, more than most, knows all too well that a report or threat of an explosion is a very serious matter," Rollins said. "Mr. Duhaime's 911 call on Sept. 13 did in fact generate an enormous law enforcement response and resulted in the evacuation of a large portion of the Northeastern campus, and the understandable panic among many Northeastern students, faculty and staff."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.