MURRYSVILLE, Pa. -- The latest U.S. community to be traumatized by school violence -- this time a mass stabbing -- began the long journey back to normality Thursday as it sent its youngest children back to classes, authorities searched for a motive and injured students recovered from their wounds.
Murrysville’s elementary and middle schools reopened just 24 hours after a stabbing and slashing rampage through the first-floor hallway of Franklin Regional Senior High School. Police have identified 16-year-old Alex Hribal as the suspected attacker.
“He just went down the hall swinging the two knives he had,” Murrysville’s police chief, Thomas Seefeld, said at a morning news briefing outside the school.
At least 19 students were wounded, four critically. Several remained hospitalized Thursday, including one in very critical condition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Presbyterian Hospital. Two were in fair condition at Children’s Hospital, and several more remained hospitalized at Forbes Regional Hospital, a trauma center where three students underwent emergency surgery immediately after the stabbing.
A news conference was planned at Forbes to provide an update on the victims’ conditions.
As the day began, buses and cars began dropping pupils off at the elementary and middle schools, but a police car was parked outside the closed high school. Police and school officials said they hoped to reopen the high school Monday.
Evidence collection was completed and a cleanup crew was expected to arrive Thursday to clean the bloodstains and other remnants of the attack, and to collect the books, bags, jackets and other belongings that students dropped as they fled the campus.
In Murrysville, a Pittsburgh suburb of about 20,000 people, school officials, police and those who know the suspect tried to determine what could have caused a boy described as quiet and unremarkable to allegedly snap.
The teenager’s attorney, Patrick Thomassey, said he would try to have his client’s case moved from adult to juvenile court. Hribal was charged with four counts of attempted homicide; 21 counts of aggravated assault; and one count of bringing a weapon onto school property. Seefeld said the boy had not been speaking to police.
Thomassey described Hribal as “dazed,” “frightened” and “depressed.” He said he had never been in trouble.
“This is not a dysfunctional family,” Thomassey told Pittsburgh’s Action News 4 TV, describing him as a B student. “We’re trying to figure out what happened and what caused this.”
No one answered the door at the Hribals’ home Thursday morning, a white house with pine-green shutters in a relatively affluent neighborhood of large, two-story homes.
Some classmates familiar with Hribal portrayed him as quiet, without a lot of friends. Some said he had been bullied, but others said they never had known him to be the target of harassment.
Everyone agreed that they never knew Hribal to be violent or unstable.
“None of us saw it coming,” said Tyler Recklein, a fellow sophomore at Franklin Regional who had been friends with Hribal in middle school.
“All the news is saying he was bullied, but he was never really bullied from what I could tell,” Recklein said. He said the two had mutual friends who were “all nice and cool. He’s friends with lacrosse players, football players.”
But Recklein, like others who know Hribal, also said the teenager kept largely to himself. “He didn’t talk to people he wasn’t friends with,” he said. “He didn’t reach out and try to make new friends.”
Other pupils who know Hribal said he was bullied. They included Hribal’s Spanish class partner, Dom Altieri, who was interviewed by the FBI after the stabbing and who could not name any friends of Hribal.
“He was a really quiet kid,” Altieri said. “But I definitely wouldn’t classify him as someone who would do something lunatic.”
Altieri recalled one instance of another student dumping a bottle of water over Hribal. He said Hribal would laugh at his jokes but did not speak much himself. Altieri speculated that his friendly interactions with Hribal might have saved him from being harmed.
Altieri said he was walking down the hall to meet a friend when chaos erupted shortly after 7 a.m. Wednesday. He turned around and saw two students a few feet away, bleeding from wounds. Altieri said he then came face-to-face with Hribal, but he was not attacked.
“It was just insanity,” Altieri said. “I ran outside while screaming. ‘Get out here, get out of here. There’s a kid with a knife.’
“I think the victims were more or less random, but he could have picked certain people from the random groups,” Altieri said.
Hundreds of people flocked to prayer services across the city Wednesday night and gathered at hospitals to await word on the wounded.
“It’s always going to be there,” said Natalie Tedesco, a Franklin High School senior, speaking of the wounded. She was among the pupils who went to Forbes hospital to lend support to victims’ families as they awaited word on their loved ones. “It’s always going to be something that affects them.”
Semuels and Simon reported from Murrysville; Susman reported from New York