CLEVELAND - May 9, 2003 began like any other day at Case Western Reserve University. The spring semester was rolling to a close as students prepared for the upcoming graduation ceremony the following week.
It was a quiet, sunny Friday afternoon at the Peter B. Lewis Building at Case’s Weatherhead School of Management. Then, just before 4 p.m., the quiet was abruptly interrupted by the sound of gunfire.
Biswanath Halder, 62, a CWRU business school graduate broke through a rear door of the university’s brand new building on a shooting spree.
Armed with a semi-automatic rifle and flak jacket, Halder began roaming the halls—aiming and firing at anyone who crossed his path.
Halder killed 30-year-old graduate student and Youngstown native Norman Wallace, wounded two others and held nearly 150 people hostage in a more than seven-hour standoff with Cleveland police, SWAT, FBI and the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department.
Halder was eventually apprehended by SWAT officers who found him in a classroom on the fifth floor.
A lasting memory for many was the SWAT officers running folks from the building to safety. Many inside the building hid in offices, classrooms and closets waiting to be rescued.
Halder was arrested and charged with 338 felony counts, including aggravated murder and terrorism. His trial began in late 2005 where some insight was gained as to a motive for Halder’s shooting spree.
Halder, a native of Calcutta, India, blamed a CWRU computer lab employee for destroying his computer files and website which he said was to help fellow Indians form businesses.
Testimony from the trial included a professor who suffers from multiple sclerosis (who was in a wheelchair at the time of the shooting). He said he faked his own death to save his life when he realized a gunman was approaching him in the hallway by pretending to be shot and slumping over in his chair.
An economics professor also testified that she initially thought the gunman was a bicycle messenger. She realized she was wrong and that the man wearing the Army helmet and flak jacket standing a few feet from her was "probably the scariest thing I've ever seen." She was one of the two surviving victims shot by Halder during his rampage.
"I saw him raising the gun to shoot me, I imagined, and I started to shut the door," she testified. About the same time, she heard and felt a blast -- the crack of a gun and a thump on her chest as she had been shot.
Five women told the court they feared for their lives as they huddled together in a supply closet for seven hours as shots rang out from the hallways.
"I just started praying," said one shooting survivor. "I prayed for seven hours."
The trial of Biswanath Halder called a total of 118 witnesses and lasted more than two months. Halder was sentenced to life in prison and is currently incarcerated at Madison Correctional Institution. His most recent appeal was denied in 2008.
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