A Westfield woman has been charged in connection with a bomb threat called in to Boston Children’s Hospital in late August, one of “dozens of hoax threats” directed at the hospital in response to its provision of care for transgender patients, federal law enforcement officials said Thursday.
Catherine Leavy, 37, was arrested Thursday morning at her home, officials said at a news conference at the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse in Boston. She appeared before a US magistrate judge and is being held until a detention hearing in federal court on Friday.
She is charged with one count of making a false telephonic bomb threat in connection with an Aug. 30 call to the hospital. No bomb was ever found.
“This alleged conduct is disturbing to say the least,” said US Attorney Rachael Rollins. “Bomb hoaxes cause fear, panic, and a diversion of resources that have real impact on our communities. The people that work at Children’s Hospital and the parents that bring their loved ones to Children’s Hospital are under enough stress.”
Rollins said the caller told a hospital operator, in part, “There is a bomb on the way to the hospital. You better evacuate everybody, you sickos.”
Authorities have said that there was another threat on Sept. 9.
Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston Division, said Children’s Hospital recently has received “sustained harassment related to ... services they provide to gender-diverse and transgender individuals and their families.”
Leavy is only charged with making the Aug. 30 threat, but “we continue looking, we continue searching,” Rollins said.
She reiterated her office’s commitment to protect health care providers for the LGTBQ+ community.
“While I cannot comment further on the alleged motive of this case, I want to say, generally, that health care providers who support and offer care to gender-diverse and transgender individuals and their families deserve to do so without fear,” she said.
“As Attorney General Merrick Garland has said recently, the Department of Justice will ensure equal protection of transgender people under the law -- hard stop. I have made confronting hate crimes a priority and will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute individuals who cross the line of free speech and choose to inflict fear and intimidation with their words and actions,” she said.
In August, doctors and other Children’s Hospital staff who treat transgender children began receiving threats and harassment after the hospital’s pediatric and adolescent transgender health program was targeted on social media by right-wing groups.
The FBI obtained phone records for the Aug. 30 call that showed it came from Leavy’s cellphone, and that at the time of the call the phone pinged off a tower in Montgomery, about 10 miles from Leavy’s home, according to an affidavit entered into court records.
FBI agents interviewed Leavy Thursday at her home, where she initially denied making the threat or knowing the location of her cellphone when it was made, according to the affidavit.
Agents played an audio recording of the call and told Leavy that records showed it was made from her phone, according to the document.
Leavy repeatedly expressed disapproval of Children’s Hospital during the interview and eventually admitted that she had called in the threat, but she said she “had no plan or intention to actually bomb” the hospital, the document shows.
“Today’s arrest should serve as a strong warning to others, that making threats of violence is not a prank,” Bonavolonta said. “It’s a federal crime and can carry up to five years in a federal prison.”
Bonavolonta said harassment of hospital employees “has caused a huge amount of angst, alarm, and unnecessary expenditure of limited law enforcement resources. Specifically, the hospital has received dozens of hoax threats, including harassing phone calls and e-mails, individual death threats, and threats of mass casualty attacks. This behavior is nothing short of reprehensible and, let me be clear, it needs to stop now,” he said.
“The real victims in this case are the hospital’s patients, children with rare diseases, complex conditions, and those seeking emergency care who had to divert to other hospitals because of these hoax threats. Threatening the life of anyone who seeks any type of health service is a heinous act and will not be tolerated,” he said. “People need to handle their disagreements to beliefs that are contrary to theirs civilly, without the threat of force or any kind of intimidation. No one should feel unsafe in their own home, workplace, school, or hospital.”
Travis Andersen and Martin Finucane of the Globe Staff contributed.
Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.