24 injured, 1 in critical condition, in stabbings at Pennsylvania school

Teenager wielded 2 8-inch kitchen knives

  • Stabbing-at-Franklin-regional-bLOCK-NEWS-ALLIANCE

    Officials outside of Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, where multiple people were stabbed early today.


  • Officials outside of Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, where multiple people were stabbed early today.
    Officials outside of Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, where multiple people were stabbed early today.

    Story updated at 4:21 p.m. on Wednesday, April 9, 2014.


    MURRYSVILLE, Pa. — Twenty-four people were injured — at least one of them critically — when a teenager wielding two 8-inch kitchen knives this morning attacked students at Franklin Regional Senior High School in Murrysville.

    Emergency medical officials said 21 students and one security guard were stabbed and two students were injured in the aftermath.

    PHOTO GALLERIES: Stabbings in Pa. school | Vigils held for victims

    The suspect, Alex Hribal, a 16-year-old sophomore, was taken into custody after being wrestled to the floor of a school hallway and disarmed by a security guard and a school administrator. The youth was taken to the Murrysville police station, where he was questioned by officers and Westmoreland County detectives before being taken to Westmoreland Hospital for minor injuries to his hands.

    After he was treated for his cuts, the suspect, dressed in a hospital gown and handcuffed, was returned to the police station. This evening, he was taken before District Judge Charles Conway in Export. Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held described Alex as quiet and said that the teen had not been talking to authorities since he was brought to the judge's office.

    Murrysville police Chief Thomas Seefeld said a motive is still unclear.

    "Initially, we don't know what led up to this," he said.

    A Franklin Regional student who said he knows Alex well, and who arrived at school after the incident had already began, said he was "shocked, surprised. ... I know him pretty well. ... I've never seen any anger from him, ever."

    The student, who asked not to be named, called Alex "sort of a shy person. To me he never seemed like someone who would do anything violent. He never seems very upset or anything of that."


    VIDEO: Westmoreland County officials and a parent talk about the scene at Frankling Regional High School after multiple stabbings early today left 20 students injures. (Video by Darrell Sapp; 4/9/2014)


    VIDEO: Dr. Christoph Kaufmann, director of trauma services, talks about some of the victims being treated at Forbes Regional Hospital. (Video by Larry Roberts; 4/9/2014)


    A woman walks onto the campus of the Franklin Regional School District where several people were stabbed at Franklin Regional High School early today. The suspect, a male student, was taken into custody and being questioned.
    A woman walks onto the campus of the Franklin Regional School District where several people were stabbed at Franklin Regional High School early today. The suspect, a male student, was taken into custody and being questioned.

    He said Alex's interests include "hockey, video games, things like that. ... He would always share funny photos that he found on Facebook."

    Alex is "sort of nerdy, short," the student said. "I would assume that he was bullied and there was a good amount of depression." The student said he never saw the suspect being bullied.

    The attacks began before classes started this morning in a classroom in the school's science wing when the suspect pulled out two large butcher knives and started slashing and stabbing fellow students, said Mark Drear, vice president of Capital Asset Protection, which provides security guards for the school.

    Terrified, the students, some of them wounded, ran from the room with the suspect chasing them down the hallway in a chaotic scene. While running, he stabbed and slashed at other students who had been standing in the hallway, Mr. Drear said.

    One of the students, sophomore Nathan Scimio, realized what was happening and pulled a fire alarm to evacuate the school. That caused students who were in other classrooms to crowd into the hallway.

    When the students who were first attacked reached the end of the hallway they went to a security office and told the security guard there about the student with knives. The security officer, one of three on duty at the school along with a police officer, could see some of the students were bleeding profusely.

    He immediately ran into the hallway where he confronted the suspect, who lunged at him with the knife. The security officer took him to the ground and assistant principal Sam King jumped in as well.

    A second security guard who had been outside the school and was alerted by students who vacated the building, came onto the scene and joined in the fray. The three men were able to disarm the suspect as the police officer arrived and handcuffed the attacker.

    The initial security guard who confronted the suspect realized he had been stabbed at some point in the abdomen near the rib cage, possibly during the initial lunge. Mr. Drear said he is expected to recover from the injury, which was not life-threatening.

    Ian Griffith, an 18-year-old senior at Franklin Regional, said he was inside the school when he walked down the stairs and saw Mr. King with the stabbing suspect. He said he saw the student stab the school security guard.

    Mr. King jumped on the student and Mr. Griffith said he then he jumped on top of the pair. Mr. Griffith said he tried to hold down the suspect's hands and arms and Mr. King told him to go find an ambulance.

    Mr. Griffith went to find help and said that when he returned other staff members were helping to keep the suspect contained so he went out to the field where students were gathering.

    Gov. Tom Corbett traveled to Murrysville and joined school and police authorities at the school for a 5 p.m. news conference, where he hailed responders -- specifically students -- who stepped forward to help others.

    Emergency responders gather at the high school on the campus of the Franklin Regional School District, where several people were stabbed early today.
    Emergency responders gather at the high school on the campus of the Franklin Regional School District, where several people were stabbed early today.

    Superintendent Gennaro Piraino said the district's thoughts and prayers are with the injured and those affected by the incident.

    "I pray and we pray every day that this doesn't happen in any school," he said. "The actions and response of our staff, students and local law enforcement officers saved many lives."

    Four students were flown to hospitals by medical helicopter.

    Eight male victims - seven students and an adult - were taken to Forbes Regional Hospital in Monroeville, the nearest trauma center. Of the seven students, three needed emergency surgery for stab wounds to the torso that Dr. Christoph Kaufmann, chief trauma surgeon, said would have been fatal had the patients not received immediate treatment. The doctor said the wounds were "impressively large holes" and were multiple inches deep.

    Dr. Kaufmann said the boys, two 16-year-olds and one 15-year-old, were each stabbed once with a blade at least an inch wide, and all suffered damage to vital organs. He said he expected the boys to recover, but they may need additional surgery . Dr. Kaufmann said it will take at least a week before doctors know how well the recovery is going.

    The other four students, all boys between 15 and 17, suffered less-serious knife wounds to their extremities and torsos, but all will be held overnight at the hospital and could remain for several days. Their families were with them this afternoon.

    The security guard was wounded in the stomach, the chief said.

    Dr. Timothy Van Fleet, of the department of emergency medicine at UPMC, said six victims were brought to UPMC East and one was transferred to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh UPMC. Four of the victims -- three boys and a girl -- were treated and released, and one -- a 17-year-old female -- was undergoing plastic surgery for facial lacerations and is expected to be treated and released later today.

    One student with superficial wounds was treated and released at UPMC Mercy.

    Five — including the victim transferred from UPMC East — were at Children’s Hospital, where one, a 14-year-old boy, was in critical condition with a chest wound. Two males were in serious condition, a 17-year-old with a chest wound and a 16-year-old with an injury to his right arm. A 17-year-old male was in fair condition with a stab wound in his left arm and a 17-year-old female was in fair condition with a wound to her right hand.

    Joanne Witkowski's 14-year-old nephew, Brandon Brown, was among the stabbing victims being treated at Children's Hospital. Outside the facility, she told reporters he thought at first that he had been punched by the attacker, whom he didn't know.

    He looked down at his shirt, saw blood, and collapsed, she said. A friend helped him to safety, and he was later taken by helicopter to the hospital.

    The blade missed his liver and colon but punctured his lung, Ms. Witkowski said. He is alert but will be in the hospital for four or five days, she said.

    UPMC Presbyterian had one victim, a 17-year-old male in critical condition with chest and abdomen wounds. The boy is on life support and has already undergone one surgery, with more to come, UPMC doctors said. The blade sliced through his liver and diaphragm, missing his heart by millimeters.

    "We're very hopeful he will make it through this," said Dr. Louis Alarcon, medical director of trauma surgery at UPMC Presbyterian. "He's the most seriously injured person in the UPMC system."

    One 15-year-old girl, Ariana Schofield of Export, was flown from the school to Allegheny General Hospital, where she was treated and released.

    Franklin Regional Senior High School has an enrollment of 1,222.

    Just before 7:15 a.m., a school resource officer asked for medical assistance at the school for a stabbing. The students were injured in several first-floor classrooms and in the hallways before the classes started, Mr. Stevens said.

    Lori Renda, who lives two doors down from the suspect, said her daughter, Melanie, arrived at the school to find teachers screaming, "Run. Run."

    Melanie, a 17-year-old junior, ran up a nearby hill. "She looked down and saw students bleeding," her mother said.

    Gracey Evans, a junior from Murrysville, said she arrived at the school around 6:50 a.m. Around 20 minutes later, as she stood in the sophomore hall while her best friend stopped at his locker, she heard another student say something about blood.

    "I saw this kid in all black running down the hallway, stabbing," said Ms. Evans. "He was just stabbing everybody that was in his way."

    Her friend was stabbed in the back, she said, and a nearby student was stabbed in the stomach.

    Then somebody pulled a fire alarm as the perpetrator ran off, and a teacher ordered all of the kids into a classroom.

    "My friend was on his stomach, and the other kid who was severely injured was told to sit up. I knew that wasn't right.

    "I said to a few students, we need pressure on this wound, and they gave me some paper towels, and I held pressure on that wound for about 10 minutes."

    She was taken with her injured friends to Forbes Regional Hospital, where social workers attended to her. "They told me I was a real hero. I was just freaking out because I was so traumatized.

    "I'm still shaking. I was crying. Then the mother of the boy that I helped comes in, and she saw me and she just started crying, and I said to her, 'I saved your son,' and she started crying some more."

    Freshman Hope Demont said she heard rumors that the suspect called an upperclassman Tuesday night from a restricted number saying, "I'm going to [expletive] you up."

    Asked about that phone call at the press briefing, Chief Seefeld said: "We're checking it out."

    School director Roberta Cook said the district has done extensive training for a mass casualty at the schools.

    "This is the training that you hope you never have to use. But everyone is doing what they are supposed to do. The administrators and the first-responders are doing what they need to do," Mrs. Cook said.

    Although she had not received any official information as a board members, she said other reports she heard indicating the incident happened before classes started means that it happened at one of the most vulnerable times of day.

    "Once the students are in the building and in classes we can go into lockdown. But before school starts it's hard to completely secure the building," Mrs. Cook said.

    Most of the training done in the district focused on an active shooter, not someone with a knife, she said.

    When Ms. Cook heard that someone pulled the fire alarm after the stabbing started, she said that action would have followed the training.

    "This is terribly unfortunate. I hope that all of the students are OK," Mrs. Cook said.

    Franklin Regional Senior High School has no metal detectors, but it has a reputation as a relatively safe school. Its most recent state Safe Schools report shows 17 reportable incidents in 2012-13, none of them involving weapons. The report notes that there were no arrests and no incidents involving local police. The most common reportable incident was fights, for which there were eight.

    Parents were asked to go to Heritage Elementary, also in Murrysville, to pick up their children.

    Meanwhile, two Murrysville police officers were stationed outside the home of the suspect, a two-story house with tan siding and tan brick in a cul de sac. The family did not responded to calls and was not at the house.

    Next-door neighbors Sonya and John Kokalis said the neighborhood was built about 13 years ago and they and the Hribal family moved in around that time.

    Ms. Kokalis said she saw the suspect's parents around 8:30 a.m. and at that point, "They didn't know anything."

    She described them as a "nice family."

    "It's surreal," she said. "You see this and it happens other places. ... It's not sinking in."

    Mr. Piraino said the high school will be closed for the next few days and that counseling will be available. The elementary and middle schools will be running as normal Thursday.

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writers Molly Born, Mike Fuoco, Rich Lord, Andrew McGill, Liz Navratil, Mary Niederberger, Jon Schmitz and Lexi Belculfine contributed to this report.