A group of suspicious "packages" found in Boston Thursday were a "massive hoax," according to officials, who only found out later the "packages" were part of an outdoor advertising campaign by the Cartoon Network.
"It's a hoax, and it's not funny," said Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
According to a statement released by the Cartoon Network, "The 'packages' in question are magnetic lights that pose no danger." It went on the say, "We regret that they were mistakenly thought to pose any danger."
A high-ranking Boston official said that despite the Cartoon Network statement, the devices "were real enough looking" and "sophisticated enough looking" that trained bomb technicians decided to detonate at least one of them rather than take the chance that it was a real bomb.
Officials in Boston also said the description as "magnetic lights" may not be completely accurate.
Between 20 and 40 of the stunt devices -- when some were triggered, a cartoon character "exploded out" -- are hidden in cities across the country. Executives at the Cartoon Network could not immediately identify the locations for homeland security officials, sources said.
The first device, described as a "suspicious package" with wires dangling from it, was found during the morning rush hour. Officials said that device forced the temporary shutdown of the subway where it was found and a busy overpass on Interstate I-93. Later on, officials said the device was made up of a circuit board, wires and batteries.
Four additional suspicious devices found in Boston were discovered on two bridges, a busy intersection and near a medical center, interrupted traffic and delayed pedestrians before authorities were able to determine they were not actual bombs. The scare also shut down a stretch of the Charles River spanned by one of the bridges.
One magentic light was a "LiteBrite" with batteries and wires and attached to the bridge with a magnet. The LiteBrite image was a cartoon character with its middle finger raised, according to federal sources. Another device had a LED screen with another character showing an obscene gesture. There was no text and no message.
The Cartoon Network's campaign for the animated television show Aqua Teen Hunger Force placed similar devices in nine other cities. "They have been in place for two to three weeks in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, Austin, San Francisco, and Philadelphia," the statement read.
But a high-ranking law enforcement official says at least one television production person has obtained a lawyer and is expected to come forward to officials later this evening. Because of the nature of the devices and the fact that city officials felt they posed a danger, there could be criminal charges.