Former Northeastern University employee charged with staging hoax explosion on Boston campus

rachael rollins standing at the front of a press conference
United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins speaks during the press conference at the Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston to announce an arrest in connection with a reported explosion on Northeastern University’s Boston campus on Sept. 13, 2022. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

A former Northeastern employee has been charged with staging a hoax explosion inside Holmes Hall on the university’s Boston campus last month and providing false information to investigators.

Jason Duhaime, 45, was arrested Tuesday morning in San Antonio and was scheduled to appear in federal court in Texas later Tuesday afternoon. 

A “word-for-word” copy of a threatening letter directed at Northeastern’s Immersive Media Lab—that Duhaime claimed was in a hard plastic case that exploded—was found on his computer, U.S. Attorney Rachael S. Rollins said Tuesday.

Rollins was joined at the press conference by Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Police Commissioner Michael Cox and Northeastern Chief of Police Michael A. Davis.

Duhaime was charged with one count of conveying false and misleading information related to an explosive device and one count of making materially false statements to a federal law enforcement agent.

At the time of the incident, Duhaime was the new technology manager and director of the Immersive Media Lab. The university said Tuesday that he’s no longer employed by Northeastern, which does not comment on personnel matters. 

“Northeastern would like to thank the professionals in the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and Boston Police Department for bringing this investigation to a close,” the university said in a statement. “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. As always, the safety of our students, faculty and staff is our highest priority.”

Duhaime allegedly placed a 911 call at 7 p.m. on Sept. 13 to report that he was injured by “sharp” objects expelled from a plastic case he had opened inside the lab that evening. He allegedly told the 911 operator that he and a Northeastern student in the lab had collected several packages from the mail area earlier that evening and brought them into the lab. Among the packages were two hard plastic Pelican cases that Duhaime brought into a storage closet inside the lab. 

Duhaime allegedly told the 911 operator that when he opened one of the cases inside the closet, “very sharp” objects flew out of the case and under his shirt sleeves, causing injuries to his arms. It is further alleged that Duhaime also reported the case contained an anonymous “violent note” directed at the lab.

The reported incident triggered a significant response from various law enforcement agencies, two law enforcement bomb squads, the evacuation of several Northeastern buildings and numerous campus-wide alerts, one of which described an “explosion.”

The Northeastern Police Department responded to Holmes Hall within one minute of the 911 call, Davis said after the incident, and worked closely with the Boston Police Department, U.S. Attorney’s office and FBI throughout the investigation that led to the arrest.

Holmes Hall, located at 39 Leon St., was evacuated as a precaution and evening classes in nearby buildings were canceled. No one was injured. 

The Northeastern Police Department increased patrols and security across the campus after incident.

Local and federal law enforcement observed that the case described by Duhaime to the 911 operator was empty and undamaged, according to documents unsealed Tuesday. Neither the case nor the letter that Duhaime said was inside the box showed any indication of having been exposed to a forceful or explosive discharge. In addition, the storage closet appeared normal and bomb technicians did not observe any objects or suspicious debris on the floor or anywhere.  

“This alleged conduct is disturbing to say the least. 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,” Rollins said.

During subsequent interviews, Duhaime told the same story to investigators. He also expressly denied fabricating the story.

Forensic analysis of one of the computers seized in Duhaime’s office at Northeastern revealed a word-for-word electronic copy of the letter stored in a backup folder. According to court documents, the metadata associated with this file reflected a creation time of 2:57 p.m. on Sept. 13, and a printed time of 4:02 p.m.  

The charges of intentionally conveying false and misleading information related to an explosive device and making materially false statements to a federal law enforcement agent each carry a sentence of up to five years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal judge based on the U.S. sentencing guidelines.

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