A north-east university lab director has been charged with masterminding an “explosion” hoax that a threatening manifesto claimed was inspired by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Jason Duhaime is accused of orchestrating the incident at Boston University last month, in which he claimed a package that arrived in the mail exploded and a letter inside demanded the lab stop working on virtual reality and the Metaverse.
Federal prosecutors have now charged Mr. Duhaime with conveying false information and hoaxes related to an explosive device and making materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements to an agency of the US government.
The suspect, who was arrested in Texas on Tuesday, is the Director of New Technology and Director of the Immersive Media Lab at Northeastern, and the incident took place in the building he houses.
Investigators say that on Sept. 13, Mr. Duhaime asked a student to stay late and help him collect mail from the first floor of the building.
He then allegedly took two cases to a storage closet while the student remained outside in the lab.
“Unlock [the Subject Case] and I open it. And as soon as I opened it up, all this energy and, like, these things fly out. And I had a long-sleeved shirt on, and they flew underneath, basically, and hit my arm. The case went up and then went down,” he told investigators, FBI Special Agent in Charge Steven Kimball wrote in the complaint.
Mr. Duhaime says that’s when he found the letter inside one of the cases and called his supervisor and 911.
Authorities described the note as threatening and addressed it to the lab manager. They say he demanded that the lab stop working on artificial intelligence and virtual reality, specifically referring to Mr Zuckerberg.
Officials said the inside and outside of the case were intact and the letter was also in “pristine” condition and showed no signs of damage.
And they said the suspect showed an officer at the scene his hand that showed only “minor, superficial marks or bruises” and that his clothing was intact.
“Evidence discovered during the ongoing FBI investigation indicates that DUHAIME himself drafted the threatening letter. I believe, based on ongoing investigation, that the subject case contained no “sharps”, that no objects were ejected from the case when DUHAIME opened it, and that DUHAIME suffered no injuries as a result of the case being opened. Kimball wrote in the federal complaint.
Officials say the suspect lives in Texas but commuted to the university several times a month for work. The university says he is no longer an employee.
“Northeastern would like to thank the professionals of the FBI, the US Attorney’s Office and the Boston Police Department for completing this investigation,” the university said in a statement after the arrest.
“Knowing what we now know about this incident, we would like to make it clear that there was never any danger to the North East community.
“As always, the safety of our students, faculty and staff is our highest priority. The university does not comment on personnel matters, but we can confirm that Mr. Duhaime is no longer employed at Northeastern.”