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Cornell engineering student charged in court in threats against Jewish students

Parents reportedly feared he was suicidal following a leave of absence for mental health issues

The Cornell University engineering student charged with making violent threats against Jewish students appeared before a judge for the first time Wednesday. 

Patrick Dai, 21, was arrested Tuesday night in Ithaca, New York, after online messages threatening to rape, kill and behead Jewish students were traced to internet addresses associated with his apartment near Cornell’s Ithaca campus and his hometown, Pittsford, New York, about 80 miles away. 

Dai was charged under a federal statute prohibiting transmission of such threats. At a hearing in federal court in Syracuse before U.S. Magistrate Therese Wiley Dancks, Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Brown said the charges carry up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Dai will be held in jail pending his next hearing on Nov. 15.

Dai’s mother appeared in court, according to an account of the hearing in The Cornell Daily Sun. His parents told the New York Post that he has been severely depressed and took off two semesters before coming back this fall.

The Post quoted his father as saying that Dai stopped responding to his mother’s messages in the days before the threats were made. “My wife called him or sent messages to him many times but got no answers,” he said. “She was worrying that he may commit suicide and drove to his apartment to see what happened.” But by the time his mother arrived Tuesday, Dai had been arrested.

An admission 

Cornell first alerted the FBI to the threats on Saturday, according to a criminal complaint by FBI agent Michael Renn, a member of the Joint Terrorism Task Force who interviewed Dai. The posts, made on a website that rates fraternities and sororities, threatened to shoot up “104 west,” which is Cornell’s kosher dining hall, included references to “jihad,” and were signed by screen names that included “hamas,” “hamas soldier” and “kill jews.”

Renn said that Dai “admitted, after receiving Miranda warnings, that he was the person who used the internet to post the threatening messages.”

There was no immediate response to an email and text message sent by the Forward to individuals who live in the Dai family house. A message left with the lawyer representing Dai, Gabrielle DiBella of the Federal Public Defender’s office, was not immediately returned.

Dai, a Cornell junior, was a National Merit Scholar at Pittsford Mendon High School. His now-deleted LinkedIn account listed hospital volunteer, computer programming tutor, orientation leader and school safety officer among his extracurricular activities. 

Cornell and many other U.S. college campuses have been dealing with anti-Israel graffiti, pro-Palestine protests and related incidents since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas in Israel and Israel’s retaliatory war on Gaza. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul traveled to the Cornell campus Monday to reassure the community that whoever posted the hateful messages would be found and prosecuted. 

In a statement Wednesday, Cornell President Martha Pollack said that while “we take some measure of relief in knowing that the alleged author of the vile antisemitic posts that threatened our Jewish community is in custody, it was disturbing to learn that he was a Cornell student.”

She said Cornell would not tolerate antisemitism, Islamophobia or any other form of bigotry; pledged to “enhance” education on campus in fighting antisemitism and in understanding “the history of the Jewish people,” and pledged to institute new policies against “doxxing,” meaning the practice of publicizing the identities of people whose views or activities are deemed controversial or objectionable. 

She added that campus police would maintain “an increased presence.” 

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