Omesh Hiraman, the St. John’s University student gunman who caused a lockdown of the Queens campus on Wednesday, was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia, according to his lawyer, Anthony Colleluori. Both Colleluori and his associate, Rosemarie Rotondi, maintain that Hiraman had no intention of harming anyone.
Colleluori, in an interview with The TORCH, said that schizophrenia is often viewed as simply a split-personality disorder. “Part of schizophrenia is paranoia, though,” said Colleluori, “which is far more common than split-personality disorder. This is the issue here.”
Hiraman, an American citizen of Guyanese descent with no record of violence, was diagnosed with schizophrenia around four years ago, but also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Colleluori.
“He [Hiraman] underwent a very serious case of post-traumatic stress disorder from viewing 9/11,” said Colleluori. “He was 17 or 18 years old, outside of Stuyvesant High School taking pictures, when all of a sudden those planes went into the buildings.” Soon after 9/11, Hiraman helped out at Ground Zero, an action Colleluori noted was “probably an attempt to take control of his environment.”
Colleluori went on to say that Hiraman did not exhibit all the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder at first. Since he was around his family and friends immediately after 9/11, Hiraman felt secure and comfortable. However, when he went off to Cornell for his first year of college in 2003, he began to feel alone and out of his support system.
“Over the years, the post-traumatic stress disorder got worse, because he didn’t have the support systems,” said Colleluori. He went on to note that students at Cornell described Hiraman as “exhibiting signs of grandiosity, where he would, according to these accounts, make things up to make himself seem strong.”
According to Colleluori, Hiraman was an outstanding student at Stuyvesant High School, and was a Cornell scholarship candidate. He performed well his first semester in college, but his grades began to slip.
After taking a year off, Hiraman returned for a third semester at Cornell, but failed two classes, at which point the university suggested he take additional time off.
In addition to his immense psychological problems, Colleluori said that Hiraman was also recovering from scoliosis surgery, which was causing him a great deal of pain.
“It’s a very painful physical disease,” said Colleluori. “He tried to join the ROTC at Cornell. It [scoliosis] dashed a lot of his dreams; he wanted to be an astronaut. He wanted to be involved, just like he was involved after 9/11.”
Hiraman entered St. John’s this past year as an incoming freshman despite being 22 years old. His lawyers insist that he suffered from paranoid thoughts and schizophrenia and meant no harm to others on Wednesday when he brought a rifle onto campus.
Four charges have been brought against him after Wednesday’s incident, including criminal possession of a firearm and failure to register a firearm.
Whether or not his gun was technically a firearm, according to Colleluori, is a key issue.
“Technically, the musket he has, we believe, is not a firearm,” said Colleluori, “because under the state-federal laws, it takes the concept of antiques out of the equation, and this is an antique replica.”
He went on to note that Hiraman’s gun was poorly loaded and contained only one piece of ammunition that resembled a pellet more than a bullet. He also said that the rifle fires at a very low velocity.
“Specialists looked at it, and I asked them if it could kill someone,” said Colleluori, “and they said that a victim would have to stand very close to the gun and it would have to be aimed at something very vital to possibly kill someone.”
Before heading to campus on Wednesday, Hiraman traveled from his house in East Elmhurst to an undisclosed location where he stored the gun. He brought the gun to his house, left it there, and then traveled to Manhattan, where he purchased a Fred Flinstone mask. He then went back to his house in East Elmhurst, where he took a taxi to St. John’s Queens campus and was eventually apprehended.
“He has only some recollection of what happened,” said Colleluori. “He can’t tell you why stuff happened. He can tell you in a very stilted way what happened. . . It clearly looked to me on Wednesday as if Omesh had not slept in a long time, so he may have gone as much as two or three days prior to this happening without sleep. I asked him if he was sleeping, but he couldn’t answer.”
Hiraman, according to his lawyers, enjoyed his time at St. John’s and had made many acquaintances. He especially enjoyed his theology classes and told Colleluori soon after his apprehension that he was thinking of making theology his major. This odd choice of discussion during such a critical moment, according to Colleluori, was a major sign that he was not in the right frame of mind.
“I don’t think he knew where he was supposed to be that day. Schizophrenia is like living in two worlds. Omesh the student was not at campus that day; Omesh the suffering schizophrenic was,” said Colleluori.
“He was wearing lots of clothes, but doesn’t remember putting them on, such as two pairs of pants,” he said. “So, there was some blanking out that day, which is not uncommon with post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Colleluori stressed that Hiraman felt he was being inflicted by pain from an outside force – not a student, a building, or any particular part of St. John’s. He wanted to protect himself from this outside force, and felt the need to bring a gun.
In a police report given exclusively to The TORCH, Hiraman said, soon after being apprehended, that he “had no intentions with the rifle, he just felt that he needed to bring a gun to school that day.”
Colleluori argues that Hiraman brought the gun for self defense. “Why do most people carry weapons? Unless you’re actually committing a crime, which Omesh wasn’t, he was just walking, then you’re trying to protect yourself,” he said. “So he was trying to protect himself from this force that was wreaking havoc on his body and mind. He could have just as easily have been coming to my office as he was to St. John’s.”
Colleluori also stressed that there was no struggle for the gun. “Rumors have said that there was a struggle, but that’s not what happened. I learned he was very compliant, even with the cadet, and everyone, so there was no struggle for his weapon.”
Jack P. Franzetti, an English professor at St. John’s who taught Hiraman’s English Composition class, was shocked to hear that his student was responsible for Wednesday’s commotion.
According to Franzetti, although Hiraman dropped the class two weeks in, he was “polite,” “provided in-class conversations,” and exhibited no suspicious behavior. Based off of two assignments he had handed in, Hiraman was a B student in the class.
St. John’s Executive Vice President Dr. James Pellow told The TORCH earlier that Hiraman is currently on suspension, and his future with the University will be determined at a later date, with his police charges taken into account.
Hiraman is currently at Bellevue Hospital, where he is receiving proper medical attention.
“I just hope that people from St. John’s can get the concept and find some level of understanding, if not forgiveness,” said Colleluori. “That would be a good thing, even if he never returns to St. John’s.”