Former Northeastern University employee arrested, accused of staging hoax explosion

Authorities on Tuesday arrested a former Northeastern University employee who claimed he was injured last month in an on-campus explosion, according to officials and WFXT.

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Jason Duhaime, 45, called 911 on the night of Sept. 13 to report that he was injured when sharp objects flew out of a plastic case that he opened inside the Immersive Media Lab at Northeastern, investigators said. Authorities later determined that no explosion occurred and Duhaime apparently staged the incident, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.

Officials arrested Duhaime in Texas on Tuesday morning to face charges of intentionally conveying false and misleading information related to an explosive device and making materially false statements to a federal law enforcement agent.

Several law enforcement agencies responded Sept. 13 after Duhaime reported that he and a student who was working in the Immersive Media Lab had brought several packages from the mail to the lab. Among the packages were two “Pelican” cases, one of which Duhaime claimed expelled “very sharp” objects when he opened it, officials said.

Duhaime, who at the time worked as the new technology manager and director of the Immersive Media Lab, told a 911 operator that his arms were injured after the object flew out of the case and under his shirt sleeves. He also claimed to have found an anonymous, “violent note,” with the case, investigators said.

In an affidavit obtained by WFXT, FBI Special Agent Steven Kimball said an investigation showed that the story about the sharp objects coming from the case and the threatening letter were “fabricated by Duhaime.”

“Evidence discovered during the FBI’s ongoing investigation indicates that Duhaime himself authored the threatening letter,” Kimball wrote, according to WFXT. “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.”

Investigators said they found the case that was described by Duhaime empty and undamaged after responding to his 911 call on Sept. 13. Officials found no evidence that an explosion had occurred.

Further, investigators said they found “a word-for-word electronic copy” of the letter allegedly found with the case on a computer seized during a search of Duhaime’s office at Northeastern. The file had been created just before 3 p.m. on Sept. 13 and was printed about an hour later, officials said.

“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,” Joseph Bonavolonta, FBI special agent in-charge of the agency’s Boston office, said Tuesday at a news conference, according to WFXT.

In a statement obtained by the news station, officials with Northeastern University said that Duhaime was no longer employed by the school. School officials thanked investigators for their work.

“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,” the statement said, according to WFXT. “As always, the safety of our students, faculty, and staff is our highest priority.”

If convicted, Duhaime faces a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison for each of the charges against him.