BOSTON – An MIT student wearing what turned out to be a fake bomb was arrested at gunpoint Friday at Logan International Airport and later claimed it was artwork, officials said.
Star Simpson, 19, had a computer circuit board and wiring in plain view over a black hooded sweatshirt she was wearing, said State Police Maj. Scott Pare, the commanding officer at the airport.
"She said that it was a piece of art and she wanted to stand out on career day," Pare said at a news conference. "She claims that it was just art, and that she was proud of the art and she wanted to display it."
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Simpson was charged with disturbing the peace and possessing a hoax device. A not guilty plea was entered for her and she was released on $750 bail.
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.
Prosecutor Wayne Margolis had requested $5,000 bail, saying Simpson showed a total disregard for the situation she was in — an airport after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Ross Schreiber, who was appointed to represent Simpson, said she was not a risk to flee, was a good student with no prior convictions and she cooperated with authorities.
He said she had gone to the airport to meet her boyfriend. "She was there for legitimate purposes," Schreiber said.
Simpson was "extremely lucky she followed the instructions or deadly force would have been used," Pare said. "She's lucky to be in a cell as opposed to the morgue."
Simpson is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology sophomore from Hawaii, officials said.
The battery-powered rectangular device had nine flashing lights, and Simpson had Play-Doh in her hands, Pare said.
The phrases "Socket to me" and "Course VI" were written on the back of her sweatshirt, which authorities displayed to the media. Course VI appears to refer to MIT's major of electrical engineering and computer science.
Simpson was a member of MIT's swimming and diving team in 2006, according to the team's Web site, which lists her hometown as Kihei, Hawaii. MIT spokeswoman Patti Richards said aside from confirming she was a student, the school did not have any comment.
She 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 — 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."
Pare said Simpson took a subway to the airport, but he was not sure if she had the device on at that time.
The major praised the booth attendant, but said the incident is a reminder of the terrorism threat confronting the civil aviation system. Two of the four passenger jets hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001, took off from Logan.
The city was the focus of a major security scare Jan. 31 when dozens of battery-powered devices 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.