A Newton man described in court papers as a computer genius allegedly launched a perverse, lengthy campaign of cyberterror that tormented a young woman and strained police agencies that responded to his hoax bomb threats in and around Waltham, prosecutors said Friday.
Ryan S. Lin, 24, made his initial appearance in US District Court Friday in Boston on a federal charge of cyberstalking. The bespectacled Lin did not enter a plea and was ordered held pending a detention hearing Wednesday in federal court in Worcester.
But what motivated him to allegedly hack into a 23-year-old woman’s computer, publicly disclose the abortion she had, and create a fake profile with her photo and home address that solicited violent group sex, prompting strange men to come to her house?
And why did he allegedly issue bomb threats to area schools via social media accounts linked to the woman’s associates, frustrating police departments and setting communities on edge?
Lin allegedly did all that and more because he was in the throes of an unhealthy fixation, according to Harold H. Shaw, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division.
“He allegedly scared innocent people, and disrupted their daily lives, because he was blinded by his obsession,” Shaw said in a statement released by Acting US Attorney William D. Weinreb’s office.
Lin met his main victim when he briefly shared a Watertown apartment with her and two other roommates in the spring of 2016, court records show. He allegedly hounded her about her abortion, which she kept secret until Lin uncovered the information by hacking into her diary on her laptop, according to a chilling, 28-page affidavit filed in the case.
In July 2016, Lin e-mailed excerpts of the woman’s journal, along with sexually explicit photos of her face and body parts, to the woman, the other roommates, and two additional people, the filing said.
“Deeply personal excerpts” from the journal and a collage of the woman’s face and naked body parts were later sent to hundreds of her contacts, including her 13-year-old sister, according to the filing.
Other egregious acts included a rape threat texted to the woman’s best friend on an anonymous number; an e-mail purportedly from the woman to her former boss, with a threat to sexually abuse the boss’s infant nephew; hoax bomb threats sent to schools in Waltham and Greater Boston via social media accounts falsely linked to the woman’s associates, and unsolicited images of child pornography sent to the woman’s mother and former roommate, court records show.
An online account the woman used to offer pet-sitting services was even hacked, with one message sent to a cat owner that read, “I had a panic attack suddenly and smothered Wink to death.” The owner called police, who determined the message was a hoax.
The affidavit stated that investigators cannot currently tie Lin to all the individual acts. Some may be the work of other people who received the woman’s information when Lin posted it to online forums, according to the filing.
Assistant US Attorney Amy H. Burkart said in court Friday that “there are a number of crimes” that remain under investigation.
Lin wore jeans and a collared shirt when he was brought into the courtroom handcuffed and shackled. He turned at one point and slowly scanned the crowd, and he also quickly ran his fingers through his hair before the hearing started.
He repeatedly answered, “Yes, I do, Your Honor” in a clear voice when Magistrate Judge David H. Hennessy asked if he understood his rights.
Kenneth A. Blanco, acting assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, said alleged cybercriminals like Lin are sorely mistaken if they believe they can hide behind a cloak of anonymity online.
“Those who think they can use the Internet to terrorize people and hide behind the anonymity of the net and outwit law enforcement should think again,” Blanco said in a statement. “The Department of Justice will be relentless in its efforts to identify, arrest, prosecute, and punish the perpetrators of these horrendous acts and seek justice on behalf of their victims.”
Weinreb also castigated Lin for his alleged crimes.
“While using anonymizing services and other online tools to avoid attribution, Mr. Lin harassed the victim, her family, friends, co-workers, and roommates, and then targeted local schools and institutions in her community,” Weinreb said in the releaese.
Waltham Police Chief Keith D. MacPherson echoed those comments, saying in the same statement that investigators worked “diligently to bring this party to justice.”
MacPherson declined further comment when reached by phone and would not say how many bomb threats Lin has been linked to, citing the ongoing probe.
Asked if the case caused problems for his community, MacPherson said, “It sure did.”