TERRORIZED: (opposite) MIT sophomore Star
Simpson, 19, leaves court after her arraignment
Sept. 21, 2007, on charges of disturbing the peace
and possessing a hoax device, after being arrested
at gunpoint at Logan International Airport while
wearing a circuit board and wiring in plain view over
a black hooded sweatshirt (above).
to the terminal. I look around — no Tim. Check the
baggage claim — no Tim there, either.
It’s almost 7: 45. I consider walking to nearby
terminals, in case his plane made a gate change at
the last minute. I spot an information desk. Aha!
Information! Exactly what I need.
I ask the woman behind the counter if she knows
anything about a change to Tim’s flight.
She looks up at me and starts saying things
I don’t understand. She doesn’t speak English as
a first language, making communication difficult.
“What is that? You can’t have that.” She gestures
at my shirt.
What? Am I supposed to give her my clothes?
I start to answer her first question, about my shirt
decoration. I point at it and hold it out for her.
“It’s a bunch of lights, see? Decorations? I made it.”
“You can’t have that, what is that, you can’t have
that,” she repeats.
Photograph by Jordan Bunker
“It’s art, just a bunch of lights.” I’m not sure how
to properly explain, so I’m trying to do so in simple
terms. “Can you tell me about a flight? It came in
this morning from Oakland.”
She’s getting frantic, hysterical. For some reason,
she isn’t hearing what I’m saying. She appears to be
completely glazed over with fear. “You can’t have that.
No. No, you can’t have that. I’m calling the police.”
I really don’t understand, but I realize that nothing I say will help this woman comprehend. I’m
frustrated, tired, and just really want to see Tim, so
I translate “I’m calling the police” to mean “please
go away,” and I turn and walk from her desk while
unplugging the battery to make the lights turn off.
I make one more pass through the baggage claim
and decide I must have missed Tim. Depressed, and
with the weight of my problem sets to finish, I walk
to the traffic island to catch the next MBTA shuttle
so I can go back to school.
While I’m in baggage claim, a man dressed in black
walks by me. He looks at my eyes. He looks at my
sweatshirt, and continues to walk past. I watch him
because he doesn’t look like a passenger. The back of
his shirt has “State Police” written in tall, white letters.
I think, she didn’t really call the police, did she?
Maybe the police make regular patrols around here.
I’m on the traffic island when someone grabs my
wrists. Suddenly, shouting is coming from every direction. I feel my arms get wrenched up over my head.
People in black uniforms are all over me, yelling
and forcing my arms into uncomfortable positions.
Some dam of stress breaks. I burst into tears.
What’s going on? I’m trying to go home and finish
some crucial homework I probably won’t be able to
complete before it’s due. I’ve missed my friend at
the airport because I overslept. And now I’m getting
mobbed by a gang wielding guns. It seems like 40
people are surrounding me. Some of them are holding pieces of metal that I initially mistake for giant
camera tripods. They turn out to be German MP5
“I’m an MIT student!” I shout.
“Empty your pockets! Slowly!” they shout back.
“Does she have a lighter on her?” one sergeant
shouts to another, hoping, I later realize, to bolster
their “hoax device” argument with the idea that the
flower in my hand could be a blob of plastic explosive.
For the next hour, I’m an “alleged” MIT student,
until someone at my school can confirm it. Which MIT
does, by issuing a press statement disowning me,
based on the trickle of lies fed by early news reports.
“As reported to us by authorities, Ms. Simpson’s
actions were reckless and understandably created
alarm at the airport,” reports my school’s news office.
Their statement doesn’t help me feel any better.
“What is this?” an officer shouts, holding up the
metal U-lock clipped to my bag.
“That’s a bike lock,” I respond.
“Why would you bring a bike lock to an airport?”
In the post-9/11 era, everything is suspect. I supply
a reason for carrying a bike lock: “I bike.”
Within a few minutes of surrounding me and
demanding I remove my sweatshirt for their inspection, the police and bomb squad realize my sweatshirt