Near-crisis heroes: Benson and Boylen

For many students, Wednesday had started off as just another school day. Students casually walked between classes, or lounged under the shade of the trees, taking time to relax with friends before resuming the usual tedium of a Wednesday afternoon.

That peaceful day soon became a blur of police cars, SWAT teams, helicopters, and media vans. Suddenly, the peaceful and serene community at St. John’s found itself under high alert.

There has been immense praise, nationwide, for the emergency call and text message notification system that St. John’s implemented earlier this month. Thanks to the notification system, students were quickly warned of the situation, and were able to get to safety.

But crisis was truly averted that day thanks to the quick thinking of student Chris Benson and Public Safety Officer Daniel Boylen. Thanks to Benson and Officer Boylen, the incident was over before any students even knew what was going on.

For Benson, a third-year criminal justice major at St. John’s, his suspicion of the mask and hoodie-clad Hiraman was enough to compel him to take action.

“Then, as he passed in front of me, I saw what looked to be a rifle,” remembers Benson. “There were no real thoughts that came to my head; just to get up and follow him.”

Benson, who is a New York City Police Department Cadet, said that regardless of his training, he would have known to do something, and simply saw the training as “a safety net to prevent us from getting hurt.”

Benson closely followed Hiraman into the breezeway at Marillac Hall, where Officer Boylen was stationed to overlook the area. Boylen had received a call notifying him of a gunman, and was already on the lookout for the suspect.

“We kind of walked into each other in the breezeway, and I immediately just reached for the gun,” said Officer Boylen.

Officer Boylen, who is a retired Police Lieutenant for the NYPD, said that looking back on the situation, there was no time to think about it. “It probably wouldn’t have gone over well if I just asked for his gun,” joked Boylen.

According to Boylen, Hiraman “didn’t seem violent at all,” and that thanks to Benson’s help, the gunman was quickly disarmed and subdued. “I was mainly involved in getting the weapon,” said Boylen. “Chris took over from there.”

Despite all the limelight from the media (Benson was recently contacted by CNN), he was quick to clarify that Boylen took the rifle from Hiraman. “[Officer Boylen] has workers compensation,” said Benson, smiling, “I don’t!”

Just as Benson wrestled Hiraman to the ground, his cell phone rang with the emergency notification. “I read it and thought, ‘I got him.'”

Officer Boylen, who has been a Public Safety Officer at St. John’s for nine years, was proud of the measures campus security and the police took. “Everyone did a good job, and I’m glad everything turned out as well as it did,” he said.

Yesterday, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly awarded Benson with a plaque for his courage. The biggest honor for the 21-year-old, however, “was to shake [Kelly’s] hand in his office,” said Benson. “It was breathtaking, to say the least.”