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Sunday, September 23, 2007

BOSTON AIRPORT - NO TASTE FOR ART ???



It was an art project, meant to entertain career-day visitors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an M.I.T. sophomore assured security officials after she had been arrested at Boston’s airport yesterday.

But the officials were not amused. The student, Star A. Simpson, 19, is “very lucky to be alive,” said Maj. Scott S. Pare of the state police, commanding officer of the airport’s security contingent. “Had she not followed our instructions” when confronted by state troopers, “we would have used deadly force,” Major Pare said.

The trouble began when Ms. Simpson, wearing a lighted circuit board sewn to her black hooded sweatshirt, walked up to a customer service desk at Logan International Airport and asked about an arriving flight carrying a passenger she was to meet. A nine-volt battery was attached to the circuit board, and Ms. Simpson carried a wad of modeling clay in one hand.

The employee, fearing that the board was a bomb, “asked Ms. Simpson what was on her chest, and she didn’t answer,” Major Pare said. “Ms. Simpson then turned around and left the building.”

The employee called the state police, who undertook a full-scale security operation. Ms. Simpson was arrested at gunpoint on a traffic island outside the terminal after following instructions from officers not to move and to raise her hands with her palms open.

She pleaded not guilty to charges of disorderly conduct and possession of a hoax device, and was released on $750 bail.

Ms. Simpson explained to the police that her sweatshirt, which bore the words “Socket to Me Course VI” on the back, was an art project she had created for M.I.T.’s career day.

“Course VI” refers to her electrical engineering and computer science major, which a fellow sophomore at the institute, Caine L. Jette, described as “arguably one of the most difficult majors on campus.”

Mr. Jette and Ms. Simpson are both from Hawaii, and have both been members of the institute’s Hawaii Club. “She’s not your average student,” he said, “but no one at M.I.T. really is.”

This was the second time in eight months that a circuit board had created a security scare in Boston. On Jan. 31, the city was brought to a virtual standstill while the police recovered some of the 38 lighted boards that had been placed around the Boston area as part of a guerrilla marketing campaign for the Cartoon Network. That prank cost Boston $1 million, though the city was later compensated by the Cartoon Network, whose general manager resigned over the incident.

Yesterday’s episode, on the other hand, caused no major disruption to airport operations.

M.I.T. administrators said in a statement that they were cooperating with the police in an investigation of Ms. Simpson’s venture. “As reported to us by authorities,” the statement said, “Ms. Simpson’s actions were reckless and understandably created alarm at the airport.”

Various efforts to reach Ms. Simpson yesterday were unavailing, but Mr. Jette said he was confident that she had not meant to scare anyone.

“She’s not violent at all,” he said. “She’s just kind of kooky like that. Last year she shaved her head and donated her hair to charity. She’s a great girl.”

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