BOSTON (AP) - Federal authorities on Thursday arrested a woman accused of calling in a fake bomb threat at Boston Children's Hospital amid a barrage of harassment and threats of violence over its surgical program for transgender youths.
Catherine Leavy, 37, was arrested at her home in Westfield, Massachusetts, and authorities recovered the phone they believe she used to make the bomb threat on Aug. 30, Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins told reporters.
The caller said: "There is a bomb on the way to the hospital, you better evacuate everybody you sickos," according to court documents. The threat resulted in a lockdown of the hospital, and no explosives were found.
Leavy initially denied making the threat during an interview on Thursday with FBI agents, according to court documents. After agents told her that phone records indicated her number made the threat, she admitted doing so, an agent wrote in court papers. She "expressed disapproval" of the hospital "on multiple occasions" during the interview, the agent said.
Leavy is being held pending a detention hearing scheduled for Friday in Boston federal court, Rollins said. She is charged with one count of making a false telephonic bomb threat. It was not immediately clear on Thursday if she has an attorney to comment on her behalf.
Rollins did not comment directly on the alleged motive in Leavy's case. But she condemned the barrage of attacks against Boston Children's Hospital, which is home to the first pediatric and adolescent transgender health program in the United States.
"This alleged conduct is disturbing to stay the least," Rollins said. "The people that work at Children's Hospital and the parents that bring their loved ones to Children's Hospital are under enough stress," she said.
Boston Children's Hospital thanked law enforcement for their work on the case.
"We will continue to focus on providing the highest quality care and work with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies - and our security and emergency response teams - to ensure the safety of all across our hospital," the hospital said in an emailed statement. "We stand firmly by our commitment to support transgender patients, their families and the LGBTQ+ community."
The hospital became the focus of far-right social media accounts, news outlets and bloggers last month after they found informational YouTube videos published by the hospital about surgical offerings for transgender patients. The hospital swiftly removed the videos.
Transition treatment is under attack in many states, with some labeling it a form of child abuse or barring Medicaid coverage. Critics argue that safety should be well established before subjecting youths to potentially irreversible treatments.
But many medical groups support allowing varying types of medical treatment for transgender youths, citing evidence that it can improve their well-being, although rigorous long-term research on benefits and risks is lacking.
The critics cited the videos and snippets of previous language on the hospital's website to claim that Boston Children's Hospital was improperly performing gender-affirming surgeries, such as hysterectomies, on minors and young children.
The response was swift and relentless, with a barrage of users demanding the hospital be shut down and calling the surgeries mutilation, barbarism and child abuse, while accusing its doctors of engaging in malpractice or illegal activity.
The hospital has updated language across its websites to emphasize that to qualify for most gender-affirming surgical procedures, patients must be at least 18 and meet certain criteria, including undergoing intensive medical and mental health evaluations and submitting letters of support.
Far-right social media accounts and news outlets have also targeted hospitals in Pittsburgh, Phoenix and other major cities for their gender-care programs.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney's name is Rachael Rollins, not Racheal Rollins.