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Northeastern on edge as report of package explosion raises questions

Boston police at Holmes Hall on the Northeastern campus.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

A Northeastern University employee who said he was injured when a pressurized storage case exploded in his office Tuesday fiercely denied that he staged the incident, even as law enforcement officials told the Globe they are scrutinizing his version of events.

In an interview with the Globe on Wednesday, Jason Duhaime, 45, insisted that he was a victim of a criminal act and that investigators should find those responsible.

“I did not stage this, in no way shape or form. . . . They need to catch the guy that did this,” said Duhaime, who works in the virtual reality lab at Northeastern. “It’s a very traumatic thing that has occurred so [I’m] shaken up. . . . I’m not doing so good.”

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Law enforcement officials said Duhaime told them he injured his hand during the incident, which drew heavily armed police to the Holmes building around 7 p.m. Tuesday.

But on Wednesday, two law enforcement officials briefed on the investigation told the Globe they had become skeptical because of inconsistencies in his story. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment.

No one had been charged in the incident as of late Wednesday.

A rambling, one-page typewritten letter was also found at the scene, one of the law enforcement officials told the Globe. It accused the university of working with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the US government and referred to robots walking around the campuses at Northeastern and MIT.

Duhaime told authorities the letter had come from inside the case when it exploded, the person said, although it was neatly folded and undamaged.

In the interview, Duhaime said he has valued his interactions with students at Northeastern through his role maintaining the virtual reality equipment and classroom.

“I love the college. I’ve worked there for eight years, and supported faculty and students,” he said. ”This is crazy. . . . I cannot believe people are spreading rumors about this.”

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The FBI and the Boston Police Department declined to comment on the status of the investigation. In a statement, Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden said his office is “ready to work with the university and our law enforcement partners on any prosecutions that may develop.”

After the report of an explosion, several local colleges and universities, including Harvard and MIT, issued advisories urging students to report any suspicious packages. At Northeastern, campus activities continued as usual, but with so many unanswered questions, students and faculty remained on edge.

“I thought it was really, really scary,” said Gerald Porter, a lecturer in the economics department. “As a faculty member here, I feel for the safety of our students more than anything else. We try to provide a safe learning environment and when something like this happens, it damages that.”

Hannah Wong, a fifth-year student, said one of her roommates was in an academic building Tuesday night when alarms blared and students were ordered to evacuate. The next morning, many students were still unnerved.

“It’s the start of the school year, so it’s definitely shaken things up a bit,” Wong said. “I think everyone is like a little bit like spooked by what happened.”

In a statement, university officials said, “We would like to underscore what was communicated to our community last night: Multiple law enforcement agencies have determined that the campus is safe and secure. Classes, research, and all other campus activities have resumed today.”

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A Boston firefighter who responded to the campus Tuesday said students were still in class when first responders arrived on the scene.

“It wasn’t like a loud explosion. And there were kids [still] in the classroom, so they must not have heard it,” he said. “People did not seem panicked at all.”

He said the absence of intense concern among students and other university personnel struck him as “weird.”

“You hear [the word] explosion, you think: big noise and people would be nervous,” he said.

Officials said a second, similar package was received on campus but was determined to be safe.

Daniel Joung, a sophomore from New Jersey, said he felt “kind of iffy” returning to class Wednesday morning.

“It’s been not even a day, like a couple of hours,” he said. “It might happen again today, you know?”

Joung, who lives just across the street from the Holmes building, said he heard the news while trying to return to his blockaded dorm.

“At first, I was kind of in denial,” he said. “That is a very scary thought to think, just that there is a person out there who’s trying to harm a lot of people out here.”

Holmes Hall is located between Lake and Meserve halls. All three buildings house various academic spaces and departments, including the journalism and the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies programs.

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Cambridge police spokesman Jeremy Warnick said the department responded to three calls about suspicious packages after the incident at Northeastern. “All were ultimately determined to be safe and not suspicious,” he said.

Separately, around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Boston police responded to a report of a suspicious bag at the nearby Museum of Fine Arts, according to Officer Andre Watson, a department spokesman.

The bag was deemed nonexplosive and police had cleared the scene by 9:45 p.m., Watson said.

Shelley Murphy, Travis Andersen, and Spencer Buell of the Globe staff and correspondent Daniel Kool contributed to this report.



John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him @JREbosglobe. Ivy Scott can be reached at ivy.scott@globe.com. Follow her @itsivyscott. Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her @shannonlarson98.