A Texas man has been arrested in connection with what authorities say is a false claim about an explosion at a Northeastern University virtual reality lab in Boston last month.
The alleged hoax sparked a massive response from law enforcement, including Boston police and FBI bomb squads, and forced the evacuation of much of the campus. But authorities say it was all a hoax perpetrated by Jason Duhaime, 45, who worked at the lab.
Duhaime, who was then responsible for new technologies and director of the
Northeastern University’s Immersive Media Lab reportedly called 911 on September 13 to report that a package had exploded in the lab and injured him.
He repeated the story to investigators, according to the affidavit, saying he opened up a hard plastic case that had come in the mail, and “all that energy, and like those things, just fly away.”
But authorities say there were no signs of an explosion and his injuries were suspicious. Later, investigators said they found a copy of a letter Duhaime accompanied 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 spreading fear on 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 masterminding the explosion when questioned by authorities, was arrested without incident in San Antonio, Texas, and is charged with one federal count of transmitting false information and pranks related to an explosive device, and one count of making false statements. to a federal law enforcement officer.
He faces up to five years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000 on each count, and authorities say other charges could be brought.
Duhaime no longer works for Northeastern, officials say.
Authorities declined to comment on a motive, but released a copy of the rambling and threatening letter Duhaine allegedly wrote.
“It has come to our attention that this VR lab is trying to change us as a world!” it reads. “Trying to make us live in a world where we only communicate through headsets and in a world called the METAVERSE! … You’re trying to change the fabric of a people’s ideology (SIC).”
The letter continues: “You are not the creator!!!!!!!! You think you are!!! We know you are the antichrist sent into this world to change everything!!! We will stop you!!!”
The letter also speaks of an alleged secret plot with Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, government and academic institutions to “destroy us all AS A SOCIETY”. [sic]”
It ends with a threat of destruction of the laboratories, if they are not closed within two months.
Authorities said the federal charges against Duhaine should serve as a warning to others.
“Making false threats is not a harmless prank. It’s selfish, short-sighted and a federal crime,” Bonavolanta said. “Anyone sitting behind their keyboard” contemplating a similar prank should “consider if you really want to end up handcuffed.”
“It’s not a game. And threats like this are no joke,” he said.
US attorney Rachael Rollins said it was particularly 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 September 13 actually generated a huge law enforcement response and resulted in the evacuation of much of the northeast campus, and understandable panic among many. many students, faculty and staff from the northeast.”
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