A St. John’s University student carrying a rifle was apprehended by Public Safety officers on the Queens campus on Wednesday.
According to police, 22-year-old freshman Omesh Hiraman was walking between St. John’s Hall and Marillac Hall carrying a .50-caliber single-shot rifle in a black plastic bag and wearing a George Bush costume mask.
Hiraman was taken to the 107 police precinct in Fresh Meadows for questioning and a police helicopter and armed emergency service units were sent to the University. Investigators also searched Hiraman’s parents’ home in East Elmhurst, where a rifle case was found, according to police.
Students, faculty, and staff members were notified of the incident at approximately 2:30 p.m.by the emergency call and text message notification system, which was implemented two weeks ago by Public Safety. The text message sent to students and faculty read: “On Queens Campus, Male was found on campus with rifle. Please stay in your buildings until further notice. He is in custody but please wait until the all clear.” The NYPD conducted a search of each building on campus soon after the text message was sent out.
“I got a text message at about 2:30,” said sophomore John Visconti. “Because of that I was able to get off campus very quickly.”
The University was then placed on lockdown as part of its emergency management plan, while the NYPD continued its investigation of the campus.
Sophomore Tracey Iaconianni, who was in St. John’s Hall at the time of the lockdown, said that “everyone ran into classrooms, and after a while everyone just walked into the hallways.”
Beginning at approximately 5:45 p.m., the NYPD began evacuating people building by building and letting them exit through Gate 1, which is located on Utopia Parkway. “It was very calm the whole time,” said Iaconianni.
After Wednesday’s events, some students were left wondering whether another Virginia Tech could happen.
“I couldn’t believe there was a gunman on campus,” said junior Maya Bhat. “I was scared when I saw people running to the dorms. I knew something was up, and then I started really freaking out when I saw the cops.”
Sophomore Laura Dolce agreed. “Today was scary and I’m surprised this hasn’t happened sooner because of how open this campus is,” she said.
Other students, however, were less worried.
“I didn’t think that this would go as far as Virginia Tech,” said junior Christine Chim. “It was very surreal at first, but I didn’t for a second think another Virginia Tech would happen.”
Overall, students felt that the University handled the situation well.
“I was very proud of St. John’s,” said Bhat. “I was in Marillac when the incident happened, and there was already a ton of public safety on the scene, so even without the cops, I felt safe.”
Still, other students thought there was some room for improvement.
“I’m happy that they notified us immediately when the situation started,” said Chim, “but they could have updated us with more accurate information more often, since there were so many conflicting rumors going around.”
Junior Hannah Spencer added, “Their text message said to ‘wait for the all clear,’ but they never sent another message giving the ‘all clear,’ which was confusing.”
There is one positive outcome of today’s near crisis, however. While around 1,500 students are already signed up for the emergency notification system, that number is expected to increase drastically.
“I signed up immediately after the incident started happening,” said junior Andrew Conti. “I don’t want to be left out of any future developments.”