St. Johns Queens College Campus – Man Wearing Mask and Carrying Rifle In Custody
(WNBC) NEW YORK — A day after allegedly marching onto the St. John’s University Queens campus with a rifle and a mask, a freshman was undergoing psychiatric evaluations to determine if he’s competent to be arraigned.
Officials said Omesh Hiraman, 22, is a paranoid schizophrenic. Sources said Hiraman was wearing the mask to hide from who — in his own mind — is trying to “hurt him, who is giving him the pain.”
Meanwhile, students at St. John’s headed back to class on Thursday.
Hiraman was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of criminal possession of a loaded weapon, police said early Thursday.
Hiraman was wearing a rubber Halloween-type mask that had the lower part cut off. NYPD officials and witnesses first said it appeared to be a George Bush mask, but the suspect’s lawyer later said it was actually Fred Flintstone.
Less than 20 minutes after he was spotted, students across the university’s Queens campus were notified and told to stay indoors as officials searched for possible additional suspects.
No other suspects were found, no injuries were reported, and students and officials praised a new emergency response system that quickly dispatched e-mails, text message and telephone alerts about the incident.
Hiraman’s father called the incident “a misunderstanding,” and Hiraman’s lawyer, Anthony Colleluori, told the New York Post his client was “tired, he’s confused, and he’s scared.”
An e-mail dated June 21 indicates that Hiraman contacted New York City attorney Michael Paul about protocols a gun dealer must follow when selling a gun.
“In East Fishkill Dutchess County, New York what procedure does the gun shop owner follow when an individual is purchasing a rifle?” read the e-mail. “Do they have to notify the state, county or municipal government of the fact that the rifle was purchased and/or of the name of the purchaser.”
The e-mail continued:
“Please do not contact the gun shop in this area for the answer to my question as I have already contacted them and they do not seem to be very helpful.”
St. John’s, a Catholic school of about 20,000, put its new emergency alert system in place after the April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech, where a student killed 32 people and himself.
The Blacksburg, Va.-based university’s administration sent a mass e-mail to students about two hours after the first victims were shot in a dormitory. The e-mail, which warned students to be cautious and contact police about anything suspicious, went out about 20 minutes before the gunman opened fire again.
At St. John’s, the suspect was first captured on security cameras entering the Queens campus at about 2:20 p.m. Five minutes later, public safety officials called 911.
Ten minutes later, he was apprehended by a student cadet and unarmed campus security officers. Eight minutes after that, students were notified of the incident.
“They were on it,” Sophomore Irene Kontonicolaou, 19, who got a text message alert in a business law class, said of the law enforcement response. “They did a really good job.”
Students and faculty members must sign up for the electronic alerts. Campus safety spokesman Thomas Lawrence said he didn’t know how many have done so and hoped more would after Wednesday’s incident.
Freshman Jeffrey Antoine did, signing up for the system from his laptop after the incident.
“Anything could happen,” the 17-year-old said.
Police spokesman Paul Browne said it wasn’t clear why Hiraman came to the campus carrying a .50-caliber, single-shot rifle.
The rifle was loaded with one bullet, police said.
Hiraman’s father, Pat Hiraman, said his son had been acting differently and was under heavy medication since having back surgery, but “would never harm anyone.”
“Our son has always been a good boy and has never been in any sort of trouble,” the father said. “We trust that this will be cleared up as quickly as possible.”
Students, one of them a police cadet, first reported seeing an armed man at around 2:20 p.m., police said. He was carrying a plastic bag with the barrel of a .50-caliber rifle sticking out and was wearing the rubber mask, its mouth cut out, police said.
The cadet, Christopher Benson, later told reporters that he was sitting on a bench and speaking to his girlfriend on a cell phone when Hiraman walked quickly past him. He told his girlfriend he would call her back, saying, “A guy just walked past me with a gun. Let me check this out.”
Benson, 21, began following Hiraman, and when unarmed campus security officers approached minutes later and tried to grab the gun, “I just jumped right in,” he said. He and the officers subdued the man after a brief struggle, he said.
In a statement, police Commissioner Raymond Kelly praised Benson as “a very observant and courageous cadet.”
Public safety officials conducted an extensive search of all school buildings and facilities, according to a school statement. Students were initially were told to stay inside their classrooms and buildings; they were allowed to go home around 5:30 p.m. Classes were canceled for the evening but were to resume Thursday.
Student Lina Rios was in the school’s gym with about 100 other people. She said she was impressed with the university’s response, which she said included updates about every 15 minutes inside the gym.
“We were all amazed how fast the cops were there and how fast everyone knew what was going on,” she said.
The university president, the Rev. Donald J. Harrington, said he was “very relieved and very grateful” that no one was hurt.
St. John’s has three residential campuses in the city. The Queens site is the school’s main campus.
• Associated Press Timeline Of Events:
• 2:20 p.m. — A man wearing a black hooded sweat shirt is seen on security cameras getting out of a livery taxi at the campus’ Gate 5 while carrying a rifle. He also is seen by several students.
• 2:21 p.m. — A phone call is made to public safety reporting a male with a mask and a stick.
• 2:24 p.m. — Another call is made to public safety reporting a man with a mask walking toward the law library.
• 2:25 p.m. — Public safety officials call 911.
• 2:30 p.m. — The man is apprehended by unarmed campus security officers and a student who is a police cadet.
• 2:38 p.m. — The first text message goes out from the university to students and faculty members notifying them of the incident and asking them to stay indoors.
• 2:46 p.m. — The second text message goes out to students and faculty members saying the man has been apprehended but they should remain indoors.
• 3:32 p.m. — The final text message to students and faculty members notifies them the man is in custody; students are told to remain where they are on campus.
• 5:30 p.m. — Students are let out of campus.
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