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In Hawaii, sympathy for MITstudent

Suspect in scare called exemplary

KIHEI, Hawaii - Star Simpson was known for her robotics team competitions, swimming records, and good grades before she was arrested for wearing what authorities call a fake bomb at Logan International Airport in Boston.

"She has been as brilliant an athlete as a student," her father, Hugh Llewellyn Simpson, told The Maui News. "I named her Star, and she lives up to my name."

Those who know the 19-year-old Maui native, who is now a sophomore at MIT, said they were surprised by the news of her arrest at gunpoint Friday.

She called the computer circuit board and wiring she was wearing on her sweatshirt a work of art.

"She's a really nice person, and I'm shocked that she got arrested," said Tiffany Yee, a 2006 Kamehameha Schools Maui graduate who is also a sophomore at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Simpson was charged with possessing a hoax device.

A not guilty plea was entered for her and she was released on $750 bail.

"She was an exemplary student and athlete, incredibly hardworking, enthusiastic about learning, and very humble and courteous," said Phyllis Kanekuni, the public relations director at Hawaii Preparatory School, where Simpson graduated in 2006. "She was quite active."

Simpson was captain of the academy's robotics team that assembled a robot for competition.

She was also the captain of the swim team, setting school records in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events.

She won state medals in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle competitions as well.

At MIT, Simpson is pursing a major of electrical engineering and computer science known as "Course VI," which was also written on the back of her black sweatshirt when she was arrested.

"She's a really scientific person. She's very smart. She's really into being creative, artsy," said Yee, who is a member of the MIT Hawaii Club with Simpson.

Yee said Simpson might not have been aware that two of the passenger planes hijacked and used in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had taken off from Logan Airport.

"It's kind of crazy. I don't think it was that big of a deal, but it was really blown up," Yee said. "Poor thing, she got caught up in it."

Hugh Simpson, a contributing reporter and columnist for the Maui Weekly, said he wouldn't comment on his daughter's arrest because he wanted to avoid further legal troubles.

"If you have children, they sometimes make mistakes. But you don't abandon them. You help them work through it," he said.

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