Text Messaging Warns St. Johns Students of Gunman

Students at St. John's University subscribe to a text messaging alert system that warned of danger within minutes after a gunman entered the campus.

Another lone gunman approached another campus full of students on Sept. 26, but this time there was no tragedy similar to the shootings at Virginia Tech University in April that killed 32 people and wounded many more.

Just 16 minutes after Omesh Hiraman, 22, walked on to the campus of St. Johns University, in Queens, New York, with a loaded rifle, students, faculty and staff received e-mail and text messages alerting them to the danger.

Campus police and an NYPD police cadet spotted Hiraman, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and a Halloween mask, almost immediately. Hiraman, a St. Johns student, was quickly arrested without a single shot being fired. But rumors spread that a second gunman was loose on the campus.

"From public safety. Male was found on campus with a rifle. Please stay in your buildings until further notice. He is in custody, but please wait until the all-clear," Thomas Lawrence, St. Johns vice president for public safety, sent in a text message.

University officials said only 2,100 out of 20,000 students were signed up for the alert system. Lawrences text message, and two more that followed, were widely forwarded around the campus. By the end of the day, subscribers to the service had jumped to more than 6,500 students.

"I commend the administration of St. Johns University for effectively activating an innovative text-messaging system when a dangerous situation unfolded on campus," New York Governor Eliot Spitzer said in a statement. "The alert system notified students and staff of impending danger in a timely and effective manner."


Click here to read about how wireless problems added to the chaos surrounding the mass shootings at Virginia Tech campus in April 2007.

Like many universities, St. Johns has turned to text messaging in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy when Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 of his fellow students and wounded many more. St. Johns system is so new it had not been tested until the events of Sept. 26.

"In the wake of the unspeakable tragedy at Virginia Tech, we have a vivid reminder of why a system like this is vitally important," Spitzer said. "Without the universitys effective planning and its communitys cooperation, this situation could have concluded quite differently."

Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown also praised the St. Johns text messaging system.

"As recent events have so tragically illustrated, situations of this nature can escalate and turn violent and deadly," Brown said in a statement. "Fortunately, that did not turn out to be the case as those on campus maintained a level of calmness that resulted in no panic or injuries during the crisis."

Hiraman was arraigned Sept. 28 on a weapon possession charge. The arraignment took place through a video link between Hiramans Manhattan hospital, where he is being held for psychiatric observation, and Judge Deborah Stevens Modicas Queens courtroom. If convicted, Hiraman faces up to a year in prison.

"The defendant is clearly a very troubled young man," Brown said in a statement. "Accordingly, the court has directed he be examined to determine whether he has the capacity to understand the proceedings against him and assist in his defense."


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