By Katherine Donlevy
The Cornell University student accused of making violent threats against his Jewish peers is a 21-year-old engineering student who suffers from such “severe depression” that his mother worried he was on the brink of suicide just moments before his arrest.
Patrick Dai, a junior at the prestigious university, was arrested by federal authorities Tuesday for allegedly making a string of disturbing online posts over the weekend threatening to kill and rape Jewish students and to “bring an assault rifle to campus.”
Investigators traced the deranged posts to Dai’s IP address at his off-campus apartment, where he allegedly admitted to being the culprit, according to a federal complaint obtained by NBC News.
Dai’s parents, however, believe their son is innocent.
“My son is in severe depression. He cannot control his emotion well due to the depression. No, I don’t think he committed the crime,” his father, who asked that his name not be used, told The Post in a text message.
Dai sank into a deep depression in 2021, one year after he started his engineering studies at the prestigious university, his parents said.
He entered the school as one of five National Merit Scholars named at Pittsford-Mendon High School and as a 12-time AP Scholar who also logged time volunteering at Rochester General Hospital.
At Cornell, Dai worked as an undergraduate consultant helping to tutor other engineering students with MATLAB, a computer programming language, and as the director of logistics for the school’s Science Olympiad.
Dai also worked as an orientation leader and was promoted to supervisor after just two months on the job, according to his LinkedIn.
Dai underwent a dramatic change after just one year, his parents said — though they adamantly emphasized that he never had a history of violence.
“He was always very nice to society, well organized, helpful to my family and his classmates before 2021,” his father said.
“He told us he lost his life goal and motivation … As parents, we tried to give him more love.”
Under the suggestion of a doctor, Dai took off two semesters from his studies — in the spring of 2022 and 2023 — to try and recuperate, but struggled to regain his ambition.
Dai’s communications with his parents went dark just days before his arrest, around the time he allegedly posted the unhinged threats to “shoot up 104 West,” a university dining hall that caters predominantly to Kosher diets, and to “slit the throat” of any Jewish men he came across.
“My wife called him or sent messages to him many times but got no answers. She was worrying that he may commit suicide and drove to his apartment to see what happened,” Dai’s father said.
By the time she made the 80-mile trip to the Ithaca building, Dai had already been arrested.
Instead of her son, she saw several police officers stationed outside her son’s college home.
Although they don’t believe their son is responsible for the antisemitic posts, Dai’s parents theorize his depression is somehow linked to the case.
When asked what the connection would be, Dai’s father said: “Please contact his doctor for this question. It is too complicated for me.”
Dai is charged with posting threats to kill or injure another using interstate communications — which could land him in jail for up to five years as well as a $250,000 fine.
It is not clear whether he has retained an attorney.
Dai is scheduled to appear in federal court on Wednesday.