Student holds class hostage

January 13, 1995

Thirty-five students and their professor were held hostage for two-and-a-half hours by a rifle-wielding psychology student at the State University of New York at Albany.

Instead of a lecture on the history of ancient Greece, the class got a tirade from the gunmen who said he had a microchip implanted in his brain by doctors at birth and wanted to speak to President Clinton, Mario Cuomo, members of Congress, the university president and financial aid officials. He also threatened to kill the hostages.

After a tense stand-off, a 19-year-old student lunged at the gunman Ralph Tortorici, and grabbed his rifle, after which he was wrestled to the ground by others and arrested.

But in the process the heroic student hostage who dislodged the gun, Jason McEnaney, was shot in the lower abdomen, upper thigh and groin, and was rushed to hospital for surgery.

The incident threw the 17,000-student campus into chaos. Lectures were cancelled and students crowded around the hostage scene. The telephone switchboard seized up under the weight of anxious parental calls.

This was the second time in a fortnight that the campus had been disrupted. On the first occasion a white student claimed to have been beaten up in her dorm room by a black man.

In the event, the police arrested her father for the attack. They said the woman made up the story to protect him. The case sparked a big debate about racial tension.

The hostage-taker in the seige faces attempted murder charges. During the stand-off he released five people, including the professor, and spent much of the time negotiating with police.

Three police negotiators took up positions in a projection room overlooking the lecture hall. They were concealed from Mr Tortorici by a screen.

At one point, the gunman fired a shot through the screen, just missing two of the negotiators.

Little is known about the gunman's motive. He had accumulated enough credits at the university to be a final-year student.

During negotiations with the police he complained about not receiving his degree, and at one point became extremely agitated, saying that if his demands were not met, he would start killing people.

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