A former manager of new technology at Northeastern University in Boston was arrested on Tuesday and charged with making a false report that he had been injured when a suspicious package that he opened exploded inside a campus building last month, federal prosecutors said.
The former employee, Jason Duhaime, was charged with conveying false information and hoaxes related to an explosive device as well as making materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements to a federal agency, according to court records.
Mr. Duhaime had told a 911 operator and a federal agent that he was injured by “sharp” objects expelled from a plastic case that he opened inside a Northeastern lab on the evening of Sept. 13 and that the case contained a threatening letter, court records say.
When an officer responded, Mr. Duhaime raised his sleeves and showed “several small, superficial marks or bruises on his lower forearms,” according to court records, but his shirt “did not appear damaged.”
At the hospital, Mr. Duhaime told a Boston Police detective that as soon as he had opened the case “there was this rush of — I don’t know how to explain it — energy, air, whatever,” according to court records.
The authorities said an investigation had revealed that Mr. Duhaime wrote the letter, that the case contained no “sharp” objects, that nothing was expelled when he opened it, and that he was not injured as a result, court records say.
Mr. Duhaime’s report drew an “enormous” law enforcement response that included the deployment of two bomb squads, the evacuation of a large part of Northeastern’s Boston campus and numerous campuswide alerts sent by the Northeastern Police Department, one of which described an “explosion” at Holmes Hall.
Mr. Duhaime, 45, who was the new technology manager at the Immersive Media Labs at Northeastern, was arrested on Tuesday near his home in San Antonio, Texas, the authorities said. The two charges he faces each carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The authorities declined to describe a motive, saying the investigation was continuing.
A lawyer who, according to court records, represents Mr. Duhaime, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In a statement on Tuesday, Northeastern thanked the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the office of the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts and the Boston Police Department for their work on the case. “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,” Northeastern said.
The statement added, “The university does not comment on personnel matters, but we can confirm that Mr. Duhaime is no longer employed by Northeastern.”
A day after reporting the explosion, Mr. Duhaime told The Boston Globe that he had been the victim of a criminal act and that investigators should find those responsible.
“I did not stage this, in no way shape or form,” Mr. Duhaime told The Globe. “They need to catch the guy that did this.”
According to a photo of the threatening letter, included in court records, the missive was typewritten and riddled with spelling mistakes and multiple exclamation points. It referred to “human test subjects” and robots walking around college campuses, and it accused Northeastern’s virtual reality lab of being “the Antichrist sent to this world to change everything!!!”
The letter added that “we know” that the lab works with Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, and the federal government, and it warned the lab that it had “two months to take operations down or else!!!!!”
Rachael S. Rollins, the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said that a forensic analysis of a computer seized from Mr. Duhaime’s Northeastern office revealed a “word-for-word electronic copy” of the letter stored in a backup folder.
Metadata associated with the file indicated that it was created on Sept. 13, about four hours before the reported explosion, she said.
Ms. Rollins said that the letter and the case did not show any indication that they had been exposed to an explosion, and that the storage closet where Mr. Duhaime claimed to have opened the case appeared normal and undisturbed. There was no debris on the floor or elsewhere, she said.
Joseph R. Bonavolonta, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s field office in Boston, said that Mr. Duhaime had “repeatedly lied to us” about what happened inside the lab, and had also “faked his injuries and wrote a rambling letter directed at the lab and threatening more violence.”
“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,” Mr. Bonavolonta added at a news conference on Tuesday.