BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE/ROBIN ROMBACH Enlarge
MURRYSVILLE, Pa. — He always seemed to be “the shy kid in the corner,” a classmate said.
Hours after a startling and savage attack on Wednesday that left 21 students and a security guard wounded, that was the picture that began to emerge of 16-year-old Alex Hribal, a sophomore at Franklin Regional Senior High School.
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Armed with two 8-inch knives, he is accused of stabbing and slashing his way through a crowded hallway in an assault that was labeled “bizarre” by both a prosecutor and his own attorney.
Interviews with nearly two dozen students Wednesday evening at vigils organized by churches yielded little background about the Hribal teen, who was arraigned on charges of attempted homicide, aggravated assault, and weapon possession.
Four of his alleged victims remained in critical condition Wednesday night.
Many students said they did not know him. Others, like sophomore Anissa Park, who knew him from elementary school but hadn’t talked with him for some time, invariably used the words “shy” and “quiet” to describe the suspect. Some said he was involved in athletics, including deck hockey, track, and tennis.
Another student who knew young Hribal, though he spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was stunned by the attack.
“I know him pretty well,” the boy said, adding that the suspect’s interests swung toward the usual for a teenage boy, including hockey and video games. “I’ve never seen any anger from him, ever. ... He never seemed like someone who would do anything violent. He never seems very upset or any of that.”
Though his parents could not be reached Wednesday, the teen’s attorney, Patrick Thomassey, said he had spoken to them about an hour before his arraignment.
“They did not foresee this coming. They expressed absolute horror,” Mr. Thomassey said, adding that the family’s thoughts were with the victims.
Mr. Thomassey said the teenager was not a loner nor was he aware of any instances of bullying that would have provoked the attack.
“He’s scared,” Mr. Thomassey said. “He’s a young kid. He’s 16, looking like he’s 12. This is all still new to him.”
Mr. Thomassey said young Hribal is a B-plus student from a stable home, describing his family as “like Ozzie and Harriet.”
“I’m not sure he knows what he did, quite frankly,” Mr. Thomassey said. “Something happened here. There’s an issue that maybe nobody knew about.”
District Attorney John Peck said during the brief hearing that the suspect made some statements after school officials tackled him that indicated he wanted to die.
Dan McCool said his 16-year-old daughter, Trinity, was in the hallway as the attack unfolded.
“They just know who he is. They don’t know necessarily much about him. They just say he was kind of quiet and kept to himself,” Mr. McCool said, adding that the terror of what happened didn’t hit him until he went to pick his daughter up at the school, where he was struck by the degree of order and efficiency. “Any time something happens I just try to remain calm. ... When I went down to the school to pick her up after she talked to the FBI, I was breaking up then.”
Deborah Robinson, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s school social worker, home, and school visitor certificate program, said threat assessment is “a huge part of what it means to be a school social worker.”
Obvious signs of trouble could include poor attendance, poor hygiene, and an inability or reluctance to connect with other students, though students who display those traits aren’t necessarily bound for violence.
Students who commit violent acts can show no warning signs.
“It’s really unpredictable. You can have a lot of good resources and good things in place and violence can still happen,” Ms. Robinson said.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazettte. Robert Zullo is a reporter for the Post-Gazette. Post-Gazette reporters Lexi Belcufine, Molly Born, Rich Lord, Liz Navratil, and Mary Niederberger contributed to this report.