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Pennsylvania school struggles to create 'new normal' after stabbings

In 14 words, Alex Pasculle captured how life is unfolding at Pennsylvania’s Franklin Regional Senior High School, where a week ago 21 students were stabbed by a classmate with 8-inch kitchen knives.

“It’s not going to be normal,” he said, “but everyone’s trying to create a new normal.”

They did so by returning to campus a week after the bloody attack thrust their school and the city of Murrysville into an uncomfortable spotlight. And as Pasculle recounted in an interview Wednesday night, after the first day back at class, it was a day for Franklin staffers and students to offer one another affection and support.

Students wrote cards to the three boys still recovering at hospitals, and classes participated in ice-breaker activities or watched movies to keep their minds off the stabbings.

Hallways were filled with banners sent from schools nationwide, urging the Franklin kids to stay positive. Groups of students also offered prayers to the suspected stabber, sophomore Alex Hribal, who is being held in a juvenile detention facility. Counselors and therapy dogs were on hand to calm nerves.

And everywhere, it seemed, there were hugs.

Pasculle, a volunteer firefighter for the last four years, recounted what happened on April 9. He heard the fire alarm as he was walking into school and, after learning what had happened from a friend, rushed out to his car to grab his first-aid bag. The school nurse also had a first-aid kit and teachers supplied rags for bandages.

Several students and teachers filled a classroom and the school’s lobby in the aftermath. They applied pressure and gauze to the students’ wounds. Officials have credited the quick help with saving lives.

At least one of the students helping had had a lesson on first aid in P.E. class a few days before, and the information was still fresh in her mind, Pasculle said.

Pasculle serves as a youth representative for FEMA, so he’s used to training and dealing with disaster. He plans to go to school to become a nurse anesthesiologist.

“I was calm I guess, so it just calmed everyone else down,” he said of what he described as a smooth triage operation at the school. “I hate making it seem like it was me. This is the one time it wasn’t just me.”

Among those around was fellow senior Zach Fleischauer, who received first-aid lessons last summer while training for the U.S. Army Reserves. Fleischauer said he didn’t receive much guidance on stab wounds in the Army training, but what little he did learn came to him during the adrenaline-fueled craziness last Wednesday.

“It was a difficult to see my friend like that and people I didn’t even know in the pain they were in,” he said.

Fleischauer said the return to school this week was difficult in the morning. But he cheered up after talking to a counselor and finding teachers in every class greeting students with hugs and smiles.

“We’ve grown as a family,” he said. “I hope to stay more positive for the rest of the year and to make sure no one looks at this as an event as being so bad because we all turned out to bond together even more.”

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