Suspicious packages found in Boston were marketing ploy by TV network
The Associated Press
BOSTON -- Ten blinking electronic devices planted at bridges and other spots in Boston threw a scare into the city Wednesday in what turned out to be a publicity campaign for a late-night cable cartoon. At least one of the devices depicts a character giving the finger.
Highways, bridges and a section of the Charles River were shut down and bomb squads were sent in before authorities declared the devices were harmless.
"It's a hoax -- and it's not funny," said Gov. Deval Patrick.
Turner Broadcasting, a division of Time Warner Inc. and parent of Cartoon Network, said the devices were part of a promotion for the TV show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," a surreal series about a talking milkshake, a box of fries and a meatball.
"The packages in question are magnetic lights that pose no danger," Turner said in a statement. It said the devices have been in place for two to three weeks in 10 cities: Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas, San Francisco and Philadelphia.
"We regret that they were mistakenly thought to pose any danger," the company said.
Devices were found in Seattle, Woodinville and Bothell, according to local police.
The first device was found Tuesday by a Woodinville Public Works Department crew working on a railroad trestle over Highway 202, said Woodinville Police Chief John McSwain.
"Public Works found it and took it down and didn't even bother to call us" because the device didn't appear to be threatening, he said.
Then news of the events in Boston began to be reported, he explained, and then the Seattle Police Department called, conveying information from a marketing company that gave the locations of other devices.
McSwain and other officers went out Wednesday and removed three more of the devices from various locations, including an awning at a business, in a mini-mall and in front of another business.
The devices were being kept at the Police Department at Woodinville City Hall, he added, but since the whole affair had been found to be a hoax, no bomb squad was called or other special steps taken. The appearance of the devices also tended to indicate they weren't too sinister, with one officer describing them as a battery, a light and a cartoon character making an obscene gesture.
Three devices also were found in Bothell, at two locations along Bothell Way Northeast, and one near Main Street in the downtown part of the city, police reported. The businesses included Bothell Ski & Bike and the Yakima Fruit Market, both on Bothell Way. Officers acting on information from the Seattle Police Department removed the devices and knew the devices were part of a hoax.
The marketing company responsible for the campaign, Interference Inc., had no immediate comment. A woman who answered the phone at the New York-based firm's offices on Wednesday afternoon said the firm's CEO was out of town and would not be able to comment until Thursday.
Police said only that they were investigating where the device came from, but an angry Mayor Thomas Menino said a stiff penalty will be pursued against whoever was responsible for the devices.
"It's about keeping a city on edge. It's about public safety," he said.
Homeland Security Department spokesman Russ Knocke praised Boston authorities for sharing their knowledge quickly with Washington officials and the public.
"Hoaxes are a tremendous burden on local law enforcement and counter-terrorism resources and there's absolutely no place for them in a post-9/11 world," Knocke said.
Authorities said some of the objects looked like circuit boards or had wires hanging from them.
The first device was found at a subway and bus station underneath Interstate 93, forcing the shutdown of the station and the highway.
Later, police said four calls, all around 1 p.m., reported devices at the Boston University Bridge and the Longfellow Bridge, both of which span the Charles River, at a Boston street corner and at the Tufts-New England Medical Center.
The package near the Boston University bridge was found attached to a structure beneath the span, authorities said.
Subway service across the Longfellow Bridge between Boston and Cambridge was briefly suspended, and Storrow Drive was closed as well. A similar device was found Wednesday evening just north of Fenway Park, police spokesman Eddy Chrispin said.
Wanda Higgins, a 47-year-old Weymouth resident and a nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital, heard about the threat as she watched television news coverage while preparing to leave work at 4 p.m.
"I saw the bomb squad guys carrying a paper bag with their bare hands," Higgins said. "I knew it couldn't be too serious."
Messages seeking additional comment from the Atlanta-based Cartoon Network were left with several publicists.
"Aqua Teen Hunger Force" is a cartoon with a cultish following that airs as part of the Adult Swim late-night block of programs for adults on the Cartoon Network. A feature length film based on the show is slated for release March 23.
The cartoon also includes two trouble-making, 1980s-graphic-like characters called "mooninites," named Ignignokt and Err -- who were pictured on the suspicious devices. They are known for making the obscene hand gesture depicted on the devices.