Omesh Hiraman, the 22-year-old St. John’s University student accused of carrying a loaded weapon onto campus September 26, was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia, according to his lawyer, Anthony Colleluori. Hiraman was arrested soon after walking onto campus and is facing four charges, including criminal possession of a firearm and failure to register a firearm. Both Colleluori and his associate, Rosemarie Rotondi, maintain that Hiraman had no intention of harming anyone.
Colleuori, 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. 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, said Colleluori.
In addition to his 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, but didn’t qualify. 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. 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.
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 an 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.”
According to a police report given to The TORCH, 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. He entered through Gate Five on Union Turnpike and walked past the tennis courts toward Marillac Hall.
He continued to walk around campus, between Marillac and St. John Hall, until he was eventually apprehended by Public Safety officers.
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, 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.”
Colleluori maintains that Hiraman brought the gun for self defense and did not intend to hurt anyone.
He 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.” Dan Boylen, the Public Safety officer who disarmed Hiraman, corroborates that story.
In an interview with The Torch, he noted that Hiraman “didn’t seem violent at all” and was easily subdued.
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, said Franzetti.
St. John’s Executive Vice President Dr. James Pellow told The Torch earlier that Hiraman was currently on suspension, and his future with the University would 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.”