MURRYSVILLE, Pa. — They prepared for guns, but faced knives instead.
In the era of Newtown and Virginia Tech and Columbine, danger and bloodshed came on Wednesday to Franklin Regional Senior High School not at the end of a barrel, but rather at the points of two flashing blades.
Just after dawn, police said sophomore Alex Hribal rampaged through a wing of the Murrysville school in a scene straight from a horror movie, slashing and stabbing 21 students and a security guard with two 8-inch steel knives in a swift and apparently random attack that ended only when an administrator tackled him. Two students were treated for other issues.
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Within five minutes, a high school hallway was transformed into a bloody crime scene; sleepy students waiting for first period suddenly became victims of violence; and a slender, dark-haired 16-year-old described as quiet and studious — and looking younger than his years — emerged as the latest face of the national epidemic of school violence.
“When I saw a kid bleeding on the ground is when I realized this was really serious,” student Hope Demont said. “It was absolutely mind-blowing.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Vigils held for students stabbed in Murrysville
Four of her peers remained in critical condition on Wednesday evening, and Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said the attack could yet turn fatal.
“There is a question about whether that person will survive,” Mr. Peck said during the suspect’s evening arraignment before District Judge Charles Conway.
The Hribal teen, clad in a blue hospital gown after being treated for minor hand wounds, was charged as an adult with four counts of attempted homicide, 21 counts of aggravated assault, and one count of possessing a prohibited weapon on school property. He was denied bail.
Mr. Peck told the court that the suspect made some statements after school officials tackled him that indicated he wanted to die.
Defense attorney Patrick Thomassey described his client as a good student with no prior criminal record and no history of addiction to drugs or alcohol. He said his client is not a loner and interacts well with other students.
Mr. Thomassey described the incident as “bizarre” and asked for a mental evaluation to determine whether his client will be competent for an April 30 preliminary hearing.
“My prayers go out to everyone who was injured today, and I hope they recover as quickly as possible,” the suspect’s father, Harold Hribal, told WTAE-TV outside the family’s home.
Despite several hours of interviewing the suspect, Murrysville police Chief Thomas Seefeld said investigators had not uncovered a motive. “We don’t know what led up to this,” Chief Seefeld said. “We’re praying and hoping the best for all the victims.”
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The Demont youth said she had heard that the suspect called an upperclassman earlier this week 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.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, appearing at a late-afternoon news conference after clearing his schedule and driving to Murrysville from the state capital, asked the question on everyone’s minds: “What made him decide to get up today and do this?”
News of the attack attracted national attention and lit up social media as condolences flooded through cyberspace and at least two stabbing victims posted on Twitter pictures of themselves at trauma centers sporting bandages and wearing hospital gowns.
The incident also drew in federal law enforcement. The FBI was at the suspect’s two-story siding-and-brick house on a cul-de-sac, using search warrants, seizing computers, and interviewing witnesses.
U.S. Attorney David Hickton appeared at a news conference and pledged his help. He said one thing that was not seized was the suspect’s cell phone; he said the teen did not have one.
Wednesday began in typical fashion as the high school’s 1,222 students entered the building just after sunrise. But by 7:13 a.m., when police were first alerted to the chaos churning inside the school, terrified students would be fleeing for their lives.
It was one of the most vulnerable possible times for chaos.
“Once the students are in the building and in classes we can go into lockdown,” school director Roberta Cook said. “But before school starts, it’s hard to completely secure the building.”
The incident began in a classroom in the school’s science wing when the suspect pulled out two knives and started slashing and stabbing fellow students, said Mark Drear, vice president of Capital Asset Protection, which provides security guards for the school.
Many students were still at their lockers. The students, some of them wounded, ran from the room with the suspect chasing them a few hundred feet down a hallway. He attacked other students along the way, Mr. Drear said.
One student who realized what was happening pulled a fire alarm to try to evacuate the school. That caused students who were in other classrooms to crowd into the hallway.
According to a police affidavit, Murrysville police officer William “Buzz” Yakshe, a specially trained school resource officer assigned to the district, was working in his office when he heard a commotion.
He and his office mate, private security Sgt. John Resetar, went to check. The two separated, with Officer Yakshe heading toward the cafeteria and the sergeant going down the hallway against the flow of stampeding students, according to Mr. Drear.
At first, Mr. Drear said, Sergeant Resetar thought the flow of bodies was because of the fire alarm. But then he saw the blood on the students.
“He knew something was wrong,” Mr. Drear said. “He saw the gentleman holding knives. When the gentleman saw him he lunged at him. ... He was stabbed and still holding the suspect, trying to get the weapons out of his hands.”
When Officer Yakshe returned, the affidavit said, the sergeant was “leaning against a wall and ... bleeding from his stomach.”
At that point assistant principal Sam King appeared and tackled the suspect, authorities said.
Mr. King told police that he heard the commotion, ran into the hallway, and saw Sergeant Resetar being stabbed.
Both Mr. King and Sergeant Resetar grappled with the suspect, Mr. Drear said. A third private security guard, Officer Ken Wedge, rushed in from outside and saw the pileup.
“He got into it, got the assailant into a choke-hold, and got him to eventually drop the weapons. They were having a hard time getting them out of his hands,” Mr. Drear said.
Sergeant Resetar was treated for a stab wound above the rib cage that did not hit any vital organs, Mr. Drear said. He was released from the hospital.
“That Sam King, thank goodness he was there,” Mr. Drear said. “It could have been a lot worse.”
Ms. Cook and fellow school director George Harding said the district had done extensive training on how to respond to a critical incident. But most of the training focused on an active shooter, not someone with a knife.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Jonathan Silver and Molly Born are reporters for the Post-Gazette. Post-Gazette reporters Liz Navratil, Rich Lord, Mary Niederberger, Mike Fuoco, Lexi Belculfine, Moriah Balingit, and Eleanor Chute contributed to this report.