The Wakefield man who claimed to have a “rice cooper” in a backpack he dropped at the Boston Marathon finish line last night has been ordered held on high bail and was today sent to Bridgewater State Hospital for a mental evaluation.
From Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley:
Wearing black clothing and what appeared to be a veil covering his face, Edson removed his shoes and began walking toward the finish line from the direction of Trinity Church. He was yelling and wearing a black backpack.
Alerted to this behavior and aware that the bombs that killed three and injured scores more last year had also been transported in black backpacks, Boston Police approached Edson and asked what was in the bag. Edson allegedly told them it contained “a rice cooker.” The officers were mindful that the Marathon bombs are believed to have been constructed with pressure cookers.
Through an opening in the top of the backpack, officers at the scene could see it contained some kind of device. Officers instructed him to remove it and the Boston Police Bomb Squad was called to the scene. At about that time, additional officers began clearing civilians from the scene, bus and subway service was suspended in the immediate area, and Edson was brought to the nearby Boston Public Library for a brief interview.
In a post-Miranda statement to Boston Police and federal agents, Edson allegedly acknowledged knowing what he was doing and said “it was being conceived in my head.” He allegedly explained his actions as “symbolism” and said “the performance got the best of me.” Beneath his veil, his face was streaked with blue and yellow paint.
“If this was a performance, it was the most irresponsible, senseless, and selfish performance I can imagine,” Conley said in a press release. “It was also criminal. It was akin to shouting ‘fire’ in a theater. People were put in fear, public transportation was disrupted, and a day of somber remembrance and reflection was marred by this defendant’s choices. There could not have been a worse time or place for this inexcusable behavior.”
This is poignant. As Boston’s foremost First Amendment scholar, Dan Kennedy taught me at Northeastern University, the rights to free speech and expression have limits. Those limits include speech and expressions that insight fear or cause panic, such as yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. Conley’s carefully-chosen wording in the quote above shows that prosecutors are going to go after him and will seek to defeat any argument of “theatrics” or “artistic expression,” or, yes “Free speech.”
And in this case, I agree. Free speech is one of the foundations of my life and career, and I don’t believe it applies to scaring a crowd of bomb survivors with a fake bomb.