MIT Student Charged With Wearing Fake Bomb She Says Was Only Art


Friday, September 21st 2007, 7:45 pm
By: News On 6


BOSTON (AP) _ Star Simpson, a 19-year-old with a mane of bleached-blond hair, walked in wearing a black hooded sweatshirt with a white circuit board attached to her chest, wires protruding and LED lights flashing. On the back of the sweatshirt were two phrases that looked hand-drawn _ ``Socket to me'' and ``Course VI.''

The MIT engineering student may have gotten the response she wanted Thursday at the school's career day, where employers were looking for creative minds and participants knew what ``Course VI'' meant.

Her outfit made an entirely different impression Friday morning at Logan International Airport, where two of the jets hijacked in the Sept. 11 attacks had taken off six years earlier.

``She's lucky to be in a cell as opposed to the morgue,'' said State Police Maj. Scott Pare, the airport's commanding officer.

Security officials sent in members of the bomb squad and state troopers to arrest Simpson at gunpoint, not satisfied with her explanation that the device was harmless artwork intended to help the sophomore stand out at the career fair.

Simpson, of Lahaina, Hawaii, was charged with possessing a hoax device. Her attorney, Ross Schreiber, described the charge as ``offbase'' and almost ``paranoid,'' arguing at a court hearing Friday that she did not act in a suspicious manner and had told an airport worker that the device was artwork.

She has expertise in electronics and even received a Congressional citation for her work in robotics, Ross Schreiber said.

Officials said they were amazed that someone would wear such a device at the airport, given the 2001 attacks and the uproar created eight months ago by men by dozens of harmless but mysterious electronic devices found around Boston.

Simpson showed ``a total disregard to understand the context of the situation she is in, which is an airport of post-9/11,'' prosecutor Wayne Margolis said at a hearing where a not guilty plea was entered for Simpson and she was released on $750 bail. Margolis had asked for $5,000 bail.

``I'm shocked and appalled that somebody would wear this type of device to an airport,'' Pare told reporters on Friday.

Simpson was arrested about 8 a.m. outside Terminal C, home to United Airlines, Jet Blue and other carriers.

A Massachusetts Port Authority staffer manning an information booth in the terminal became suspicious when Simpson _ wearing the device and holding some Play-Doh _ approached to ask about an incoming flight, Pare said. Simpson then walked outside, and the staffer notified a nearby trooper.

The trooper, joined by others with submachine guns, confronted her at a traffic island in front of the terminal.

``She was immediately told to stop, to raise her hands and not to make any movement, so we could observe all her movements to see if she was trying to trip any type of device,'' Pare said. ``Had she not followed the protocol, we might have used deadly force.''

The terminal was not evacuated and flights were not affected, airport officials said.

Simpson said the device ``was a piece of art and she wanted to stand out on career day,'' Pare said. ``She claims that it was just art, and that she was proud of the art and she wanted to display it.''

The term ``Course VI'' on her sweatshirt appears to refer to MIT's major of electrical engineering and computer science.

Pare said Simpson had taken a subway to the airport, but he was not sure if she had the device on at that time.

Schreiber said his client was not a risk to flee, cooperated with authorities and was a good student with no prior convictions. He said they would fight the charges.

``I would characterize it as almost being paranoid at this point,'' he said of authorities' response.

He said she had gone to the airport to meet her boyfriend. ``She was there for legitimate purposes,'' Schreiber said.

During the hearing, Simpson smiled as she entered wearing a T-shirt and sandals. After she posted bail, she left in a taxi with a man who identified himself as her boyfriend, but neither would answer more questions from reporters.

Boston was the focus of a security scare Jan. 31 when dozens of battery-powered devices that featured characters making an obscene gesture were discovered in various locations. Bomb squads were deployed and some transportation links were closed temporarily. They turned out to be a promotion for the Cartoon Network. Two men were charged in that incident, but prosecutors dropped the charges after they apologized and performed community service.

Simpson was a member of MIT's swimming and diving team in 2006, according to the team's Web site. She is the secretary of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Electrical Research Society, her lawyer said. She is a graduate of the Hawaii Preparatory Academy, a private boarding school, has won school prizes for chemistry and leadership and had received a Congressional citation for her work in robotics, Schreiber said.

MIT issued a statement saying the school is cooperating with authorities. The statement said: ``As reported to us by authorities, Ms. Simpson's actions were reckless and understandably created alarm at the airport.''

Pare praised the booth attendant and said the incident is a reminder of the terrorism threat confronting the civil aviation system.

``In this day and age, the threat continues to be there,'' he said.