After the Harvard University bomb scare on Monday, Dec. 16, 2013 a number of students who spoke to the media seemed to joke the perpetrator must be a student that did not want to take their finals. Turns out that was the case. Just a day later on Tuesday, Dec. 17, the police charged 20 year-old Harvard sophomore Eldo Kim for emailing the threats that led to the six hours search for bombs in four of the university's buildings. When Kim was questioned Monday evening he explained he did it to avoid a final exam scheduled for that day. Kim appeared in Federal court for his initial hearing on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, and as subsequently released on a $100,000 bond with strict instructions to stay away Harvard University.
According the affidavit filed on Tuesday, Dec. 17, Kim emailed the threats starting at around 8:30 a.m. to Harvard University Police Department (HUPD), two university administrators and the President of the student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson. The subject line read "bombs placed around campus" while the messages read; "shrapnel bombs placed in science center, sever hall, emerson hall, thayer hall, 2/4. guess correctly. be quick for they will go off soon." He made it a guessing game to so that a search would take long enough that the exam would have to be rescheduled. Kim sent the emails through Guerrilla Mail, a service that provides "temporary anonymous email addresses," and TOR, "which generates a random anonymous IP address for temporary use."
Kim, who lives on the campus in Quincy House, was questioned there Monday evening by a FBI Special Agent Thomas Dalton, who wrote and submitted the affidavit, and a HUPD officer at his dorm. Kim confessed to the bomb threat hoax saying he was "motivated by a desire to avoid a final exam scheduled to be held on [Monday]." The exam was the Politics of Education, to be administered in Emerson Hall, Kim was present at the start of the exam, and "upon hearing the alarm, he knew his plan had worked." the exam would be cancelled, however, he did not consider the wider ramifications of his actions, that would be far more detrimental than a bad mark on one exam.
There was also a trail of evidence leading back to Kim, a listserv email sent Saturday evening, Dec. 14, which demonstrated his desperation regarding the exam, with the subject; "Has anyone taken GOV 1368 The Politics of American Education?" The rest of the email read; "I was wondering if anyone had taken GOV 1368: The Politics of American Education (Paul Peterson) in the past. I have several quick questions about the course." However, the smoking gun was he set up through Harvard's wireless network the TOR account, which physically linked him to the hoax.
Harvard issued a statement after Kim's arrest was made thanking all police involved in the search on Monday from the local to the federal level. "Yesterday was a day of significant disruption to our campus and a difficult time for many in our community. The safety of our students, faculty and staff was, and is, our top priority. We would like to thank the Harvard University Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other local, state and federal agencies that helped ensure the safety of our community on Monday."
The university statement's also acknowledged that a student at the university was responsible for the threat; "We are aware that a member of our community has been arrested in relation to this matter and are saddened by the details alleged in the criminal complaint filed by the United States Attorney's office today. At this time, we will have no further comment on an ongoing criminal investigation."
It did not the surprise the university community that it was a student that emailed the threat as Alexander Ryjik, "a junior from Alexandria, Va." who was also set to take the Politics in Education Exam with Kim told the Associated Press; "At Harvard especially, people are scared to fail or do poorly, even a B. It just kind of reflects just how high-stress it is here. If it is true that a student sent a bomb threat to prevent himself from taking a final, I think it's sad that somebody would have to go to that length." Alan Dershowitz, the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School spoke to the NBC News and stated; "It's very hard to fail an exam at Harvard."
Harvard students who knew Kim where surprised that he was the one to do it, they expressed he was "involved on campus and engaged in his schoolwork." He has kept a quiet and low profile at the university; he was not listed on the university's Facebook list or their online student directory. Most of the information about him has been culled from his short profile as a Freshman on Harvard's Institute for Quantitative Social Science website, where he had worked as a research assistant and from an archived LinkedIn profile.
According to IQSS website bio, Kim was "intending to concentrate in Psychology and pursue a secondary in Japanese. He is currently a research assistant ... in analyzing partisan taunting. On campus, Eldo writes for the Harvard International Review and dances as a member of the Harvard Breakers. In his free time, he enjoys playing pool, trying new restaurants, watching terrible cult films, and playing with his Mini Schnauzer puppy."
The Harvard Crimson could not confirm, but on his former LinkedIn profile he claimed he was a concentrator in Psychology and Sociology. However, Kim was part of the class of 2016, and born in South Korea, and renounced his Korean citizenship when he became an American in the fifth grade; he lived and graduated high school in Mukilteo, Washington. Kim formerly lived in Thayer Hall, and he has an older sister at the university. He worked more recently as a research assistant, was a "community teaching assistant for the HarvardX course CB22x: 'The Ancient Greek Hero,'" and was involved in a number a campus organizations including writing for the Harvard Independent.
Harvard Law School professor Alan M. Dershowitz spoke to the Harvard Crimson about Kim's case from outside analytical position, and explained that "I don't think any lawyer in the world could save him at this point." Continuing he said; "based on the affidavit that I read, it seems like a pretty open and shut case," and that his only "option for a defense would be a psychiatric one, 'that he kind of just cracked…'" Dershowitz concluded; "I can't imagine any kind of other defense. It seems that what he did was really quite calculated."
The Boston U.S. District Attorney's filed the criminal complaint on Tuesday, Dec. 17 describing the circumstances and Kim's admissions. Kim is being represented by the public defender's office. U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith G. Dein "oversaw the hearing," and Assistant U.S. Attorney John A. Capin is the prossecutor.
After spending the night locked up, Kim made two appearances in Federal Court on Wednesday morning, Dec. 18, 2013, where he was going to have his initial hearing wearing shackles, handcuffs, and "Harvard sweatpants and a gray T-shirt." After appearing in the morning, the hearing was postponed until the afternoon to determine if he will be held in custody until his next hearing. A South Korea government official came to the court hearing; because of Kim's Mother is a citizen and resident of South Korea and at that time there was still some confusion that Kim is a South Korean citizen, which would have prevented the court from granting bond.
At the hearing, Kim "did not enter a plea" and only acknowledged to the judge he understood his rights. His lawyer Ian Gold told the court; "He's a very remorseful, shattered young man," his lawyer also indicated he was stressed by both his final exams and the third anniversary of his father's death; his father had been a professor at a university in their native South Korea.
Kim's lawyer is already building a defense based on a psychiatric break; "It's finals time at Harvard. In one way, we're looking at the post-9/11 equivalent of pulling a fire alarm. Certainly I'm not saying the government response was unjustified, but it's important to keep in mind we're dealing with a 20-year-old man who was under a great deal of pressure."
The court released him on $100,000 unsecured bond to his sister and his uncle's custody, both were in court; his sister lives in Boston, his uncle in North Carolina. Judge Dein told Kim; "It's really important that you comply with your conditions of release;" and then listed the long list of conditions he has to comply with, including to "establish a permanent residence by Jan. 10, to turn over his passport, and not to possess firearms or destructive devices."
Most importantly Kim is not allowed to go on "Harvard's campus," and will be "escorted" with the university and the federal court's "permission" to get all his belongings. It is unconfirmed whether his is still considered a student at the university. According to Assistant US Attorney Capin "there appear to be conditions to ensure Mr. Kim will appear at his future hearings,"
The charge for a bomb hoax carries a minimum five-year prison sentence, three years' supervised probation and a $250,000 fine.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are academic & universities news, particularly history & library news.