MURRYSVILLE, Pa. — A teenager charged in a high school stabbing rampage "just doesn't fit the mold" of someone who could be harboring such rage, his lawyer said Thursday as the boy's classmates fought to recover from life-threatening wounds and thanked the friends who came to their aid.
At a hospital news conference, one of the wounded, Brett Hurt, summed up the actions of his friend Gracey Evans, who was with him Wednesday as the assailant plunged a knife into his back, and afterward worked to stanch his bleeding.
"Gracey saved my life," he said.
Brett hoped to be released from the hospital Thursday, but some of the other 19 students injured in the attack remained in critical condition. At least three faced further operations, doctors said.
As is often the case in mass attacks involving youths, nobody seemed able to explain what might have driven the accused, Alex Hribal, 16, to snap. In an interview Thursday, his lawyer, Patrick Thomassey, said Hribal had "no history whatsoever" of problems.
Thomassey, who has spent several hours with his client, said Hribal's parents had visited their son at a juvenile jail and also were mystified by what had happened. "The kid just doesn't fit the mold," the lawyer said.
Among fellow students, an image emerged of Hribal as a quiet, unremarkable student from a stable family, who was neither extremely popular nor widely disliked.
"They've always been great neighbors and a great family," said Sonya Kukalis, who lives next door to the Hribals.
Some pupils said Hribal was bullied, but others said he was not. Those who were able to recall some bullying said Hribal appeared to ignore it. Thomassey said that based on his conversations with Hribal, he did not believe the boy to be a target of bullies.
There have been "some incidents at school, but I don't think they were the overbearing kind of incidents that you would call bullying," said Thomassey, who is hoping to get his client's case moved to juvenile court. Hribal is charged as an adult with attempted homicide and aggravated assault and is being held without bail.
If tried and convicted as a juvenile, Hribal would be under the court's jurisdiction only until he is 21 years old. In the adult system, he could face decades in prison. Hribal's next court appearance is scheduled for April 30.
Brett Hurt said he barely knew the Franklin Regional Senior High School classmate who is accused of knifing him in the melee, which the injured boy described as "straight chaos."
After he was injured, Brett said, Gracey Evans helped get him into a classroom and applied pressure to his wound as he lay on the ground. "Will I survive, or will I die?" he remembers thinking to himself.
Gracey said Brett, whom she called her best friend, saved her by leaping between her and the assailant.
"All of a sudden this kid just came running down the hallway and my best friend, he stepped in front of me and … he got stabbed in the back protecting me," Gracey told Pittsburgh television station WTAE.
Interviews with other students underscored the unexpected nature of the violence just before classes were to begin. Senior Ian Griffith was walking down the hall when he saw the school's assistant principal, Sam King, and a school security guard, John Resetar, struggling with someone. Ian watched, stunned, as "Sarge," as he calls Resetar, was stabbed in the stomach.
Ian leaped into the fray once King had wrestled the attacker to the ground, and held his arms down. That gave another school administrator, Joan Mellon, the opening she needed to disarm the suspect.
In the meantime, another student, Nate Scimio, had pulled a fire alarm, a move that police say prevented more casualties by alerting everyone to flee the building. Students and officials also praised the actions of a high school biology teacher, John Lucchi, who calmed down one of the victims, applied pressure to his wound, and stayed with him until help arrived.
The high school was not expected to reopen until Monday, but elementary and middle school pupils returned to classes as city leaders vowed to push for a return to normalcy.
Everyone agreed that would not be easy. Well-wishers left flowers outside the closed high school, and President Obama called the principal, Ron Suvak, to express his concern and sympathy over the attack, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
"It's never going to be the same," said Jacob Roberge, a 17-year-old junior at the high school. "We're a tightknit community, so hopefully we all can get together and get over this."
Brian Smith, community relations pastor at Cornerstone Ministries, dropped his two children off at their middle school Thursday morning "with an incredible sense of unease that no parent should have when they drop their kids off at school."
"It has changed the game forever," Smith said, echoing Brian's description of Murrysville as tightknit. "Through prayer and the community sticking together, we will recover and move on," Smith said. "But it certainly shakes you to the core."
This wasn't the first tragedy to strike Murrysville this school year. In October, a student who seemed happy to family and friends went into the nearby woods and shot himself to death, said Pastor Dan Hertzler, also of Cornerstone Ministries.
The student who killed himself had left a trove of online journal entries cataloging his descent into depression, but no one knew about them — not his parents, his friends or his girlfriend. Hertzler now is in the final stages of launching an app that would allow troubled students to use anonymous texting, instant messaging or other methods to talk with counselors if they are having problems, providing an outlet he says is missing for many youth.
"Nowadays, nobody talks; everybody texts," he said. "One of the things is having a place someone can go to get answers, without the fear of stigma of revealing their identity."
Semuels and Simon reported from Murrysville and Susman from New York.