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Former university employee charged in explosion hoax

<i>FBI Boston/WBZ</i><br/>The Pelican case and letter that the FBI seized after the reported explosion at Northeastern University is pictured here.
FBI Boston/WBZ
FBI Boston/WBZ
The Pelican case and letter that the FBI seized after the reported explosion at Northeastern University is pictured here.

By WBZ Staff

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    BOSTON (WBZ) — Former Northeastern University employee Jason Duhaime was arrested in Texas Tuesday and charged with an explosion hoax on campus last month.

Federal investigators said Duhaime was the person who called 911 to falsely report a case had exploded September 13 and faked his injuries. The incident caused a panic on campus and generated a huge police response.

“Throughout the course of our investigation, we believe he repeatedly lied to us about what happened inside the lab, faked his injuries and wrote a rambling letter directed at the lab – threatening more violence,” FBI Boston Special Agent in Charge Joseph Bonavolonta said at a news conference Tuesday.

Duhaime, 45, of San Antonio, is now charged with conveying false information and hoaxes related to an explosive device and making materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements to an agency of the U.S. government.

There’s no word yet on a motive.

“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 was the New Technology Manager and Director of the Immersive Media Lab at Northeastern at the time. The call was made from the lab that evening.

“Mr. Duhaime’s 911 call generated a significant response,” U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said. “A large portion of Northeastern’s Boston Campus was evacuated and the Northeastern University police department issued numerous campus-wide alerts. One of which described an explosion on campus.”

According to the complaint, Duhaime asked a student working in the lab to stay late to help him pick up some packages from the mail area on the first floor. The student said this was the first time Duhaime had ever helped collect packages from the mail.

Duhaime brought two cases into a storage closet and shut the door behind him, while the student stayed outside in the lab, FBI Special Agent Steven Kimball wrote in the federal complaint.

Duhaime told investigators “I unlock [the Subject Case] and I open it up. And as soon as I opened it up, all this energy and, like, these things come flying out. 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 then said he found a letter inside the case, claimed it contained threats and called 911 and his supervisor.

Investigators said Tuesday the inside and outside of the case showed no signs of damage that would indicate it had been exposed to a “forceful or explosive discharge of any type or magnitude.” The letter was also described as in “pristine” condition with no damage.

Prosecutors said Duhaime raised his sleeves to a Northeastern police officer that evening, showing only “small, superficial marks or bruises” on his forearm, but his shirt was not damaged.

His computer was seized and investigators said it revealed a word-for-word electronic copy of the letter stored in a backup folder. Metadata associated with the file allegedly showed the date and time it was created – September 13 at 2:57 p.m., four hours prior to Duhaime’s 911 call.

“Evidence discovered during the FBI’s ongoing investigation indicates that 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,” Kimball wrote in the federal complaint.

In a statement Tuesday, the university said “Duhaime is no longer employed by Northeastern.”

The FBI said Duhaime lives in Texas with his girlfriend and traveled there “every two or three weeks” while he worked at Northeastern, even though he was employed there full-time. Investigators said Duhaime does not live in Massachusetts and slept in his office or lab whenever he was in the area.

“This alleged conduct is disturbing to say the least. Our city more than most knows all too well that a report or a threat of an explosion is a very serious matter and necessitates an immediate and significant law enforcement response,” Rollins said.

Following the incident last month, sources told WBZ-TV’s I-Team that police were investigating the possibility it was a hoax.

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