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Cornell University cancels classes Friday amid ‘extraordinary stress’ on campus after violent antisemitic threats led to the arrest of a student

By Elizabeth Wolfe and Zenebou Sylla, CNN

(CNN) — Cornell University has canceled classes Friday to acknowledge the “extraordinary stress” its campus has been under as one of its students is accused of making violent antisemitic threats against Jewish people at the college, where unease over the Israel-Hamas war has been escalating for weeks.

A junior at the university, 21-year-old Patrick Dai, has been arrested and federally charged in connection with a series of online posts over the weekend which threatened to kill and harm Cornell’s Jewish students, New York prosecutors say.

Dai appeared in federal court Wednesday on a charge of making a threat using interstate commerce but did not enter a plea. He was remanded back into the custody of US marshals. His defense attorney, Gabrielle DiBella, declined to comment after the hearing.

Cornell will observe Friday as a community day “in recognition of the extraordinary stress of the past few weeks,” a university spokesperson told CNN.

The university will resume classes on Monday, Lindsey Knewstub, a spokesperson for Cornell, told CNN in a statement.

In addition to the online threats, the university also received a “concerning crime alert” on Wednesday, Cornell president Martha Pollack said in a statement. Though the alert was unsubstantiated, it “adds to the stress we are all feeling,” she wrote.

Cornell is one of many US colleges and universities that have become fraught with tension as students — and occasionally professors and high-profile donors — voice impassioned stances on the war raging between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.

Since the conflict ignited last month, Jews, Palestinians and Muslims in the US have expressed growing fear over a reported spike in hate-motivated attacks — including a nearly 400% increase in antisemitic incidents recorded by the Anti-Defamation League in the days after Hamas raided Israel on October 7.

The threats against Cornell’s students prompted state and campus police to bolster their presence on campus, where about 22% of the student body is Jewish, according to the school’s Hillel organization.

“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,” Pollack said in her statement Wednesday.

Some classes may offer remote learning options as students on campus still have concerns for their safety, the university said.

Cornell student Davian Gekman told CNN earlier this week that the threats caused some students to start using buddy systems to get to class, while others didn’t go at all.

Despite the arrest of a suspect, Gekman is still unsure whether he is safe on campus as a Jewish student, he told CNN affiliate CBS New York.

“My family, last night we had a discussion whether it’s safe for me to be on campus or whether I should come back home,” Gekman told the affiliate.

Pollack said the university is considering additional steps to combat antisemitism and other forms of hate on campus and insisted that the suspect’s alleged actions are not representative of the Cornell community.

“We cannot let ourselves be defined by the acts of one person, or even ten,” the president said. “While we denounce hatred loudly, we must also remember to cherish and celebrate all the good that so many members of our Cornell community do and live every day.”

Student threatened to shoot Jewish people, prosecutors say

The FBI launched an investigation after several hate-filled, antisemitic messages were posted on an online discussion forum Sunday targeting Jews at Cornell, according to an affidavit filed with a criminal complaint against Dai.

Dai is accused of publishing the posts, in which he threatened to kill and injure Jewish people on campus and “shoot up” the university’s predominantly kosher dining hall, 104 West, according to the US Attorney’s Office for New York’s Northern District.

In one post, Dai wrote he would “bring an assault rifle to campus” and shoot Jewish people, according to prosecutors.

The posts were written under usernames referencing Hamas, and they used anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian slogans, according to the affidavit.

Federal investigators were able to use IP addresses connected to at least two posts to narrow in on Dai as a suspect, the affidavit says.

The IP addresses were traced to the Pittsford and Ithica, New York, areas, according to the affidavit. Dai is from Pittsford and attended Pittsford Mendon High School, a school spokesperson confirmed.

On Tuesday, the FBI interviewed Dai at the Cornell Police Department, where the student admitted he had posted the threatening messages, according to the affidavit.

In an interview with the New York Post, Dai’s parents said that he has had severe depression dating to 2021 and had no history of violence.

Dai’s father, who asked his name not be used, told the Post in a text exchange that his son had stopped responding to the parents’ calls and texts days before his arrest and around the time the threatening posts were published.

He said his wife became concerned and drove to Ithaca to see their son, but he had already been arrested.

In court Wednesday, prosecutors argued that Dai should remain in custody, saying he presents a risk of flight and danger.

Dai’s defense attorney waived his right to a timely detention hearing. He is expected back in court on November 15.

Governor plans to ‘make an example’ of suspect

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said in a news conference Wednesday that she wants to “make an example” of Dai’s case and is considering whether the suspect will also face state charges in connection with the threats.

“We’re going to run these cases all the way to the ground to make sure that people know you cannot get away with this here in the state of New York,” she said.

The threats were made as Jewish organizations and national officials are sounding the alarm on rising levels of antisemitism, which some advocacy groups say has been particularly concerning since the war between Israel and Hamas began. FBI Director Christopher Wray testified in the Senate this week that antisemitism is reaching “historic levels” in the US.

“Our statistics would indicate that for a group that represents only about 2.4% of the American public, they account for something like 60% of all religious-based hate crimes,” Wray said of the Jewish American population on Tuesday.

At Cornell, security will continue to be heightened in the wake of the threats, according to a statement from Joel M. Malina, vice president for university relations.

Following the days of fear and anxiety on campus, Pollack said Wednesday the university’s Jewish students have “expressed strength and resilience even in the face of these awful threats.”

CNN’s Nicki Brown, Celina Tebor, Zenebou Sylla, Jessica Xing and Eric Levenson contributed to this report.

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