'Blank look' boy in knife rampage
A 16-year-old boy with a "blank expression" stabbed and slashed 21 pupils and a security guard with two kitchen knives in a horrific rampage at his high school before being tackled by an assistant principal.
At least five pupils were critically wounded, including a boy whose liver was pierced by a knife thrust that narrowly missed his heart and aorta, doctors said. Others also suffered deep abdominal puncture wounds.
The rampage at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, an upper-middle-class area 15 miles east of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, came after decades in which US schools have geared much of their emergency planning towards mass shootings.
It set off a screaming stampede, left blood on the floor and walls, and brought teachers rushing to help the victims.
The suspect, Alex Hribal, was taken into custody and treated for a minor hand wound, before being brought to court in shackles and a hospital gown and charged with four counts of attempted murder and 21 counts of aggravated assault. He was remanded in custody and authorities said he would be prosecuted as an adult.
At the brief court hearing, district attorney John Peck said that after he was seized, the boy made comments suggesting he wanted to die.
Defence lawyer Patrick Thomassey, who asked for Hribal to undergo psychiatric tests, described him as a good student who got along with others.
The attack unfolded yesterday morning local time, minutes before the start of classes at the 1,200-pupil school.
It was over in about five minutes, during which the boy ran wildly down about 200 feet of hallway, slashing with knives about 10 inches long, police said.
Nate Moore, 15, said he saw the boy tackle and knife a freshman. He said he was going to try to break it up when the boy got up and slashed his face, opening a wound that required 11 stitches.
"It was really fast. It felt like he hit me with a wet rag because I felt the blood splash on my face. It spurted up on my forehead," Nate said.
The attacker "had the same expression on his face that he has every day, which was the freakiest part", he said. "He wasn't saying anything. He didn't have any anger on his face. It was just a blank expression."
Assistant principal Sam King finally tackled the boy and disarmed him and a police officer regularly assigned to the school handcuffed him.
Mr King's son Zack said his father was treated at a hospital, though authorities said he was not knifed.
"He says he's OK. He's a tough cookie and sometimes hides things, but I believe he's OK," Zack King said. "I'm proud of him."
In addition to the 22 knifed, two people suffered other injuries, authorities said. The security guard, who was wounded after intervening early in the melee, was not seriously hurt.
Murrysville police chief Thomas Seefeld said investigators were looking into reports of a threatening phone call between the suspected attacker and another pupil the night before.
The FBI joined the investigation and went to the boy's house, where authorities said they planned to confiscate and search his computer.
"They are a very, very nice family. A great family. We never saw anything out of the ordinary," said John Kukalis, a next-door neighbour for about 13 years.
While several bloody stabbing rampages at schools in China have made headlines in the past few years, schools in the US have concentrated their emergency preparations on shooting rampages.
Nevertheless, there have been at least two major stabbing attacks at US schools over the past year, one at a community college in Texas last April that wounded at least 14 people, and another, also in Texas, that killed a 17-year-old student and injured three others at a high school in September.
Mia Meixner, 16, said yesterday's rampage prompted a "stampede of kids" yelling "Run! Get out of here! Someone has a knife!".
The boy had a "blank look," she said. "He was just kind of looking like he always does, not smiling, not scowling or frowning."
She and Nate called the attacker a shy boy who largely kept to himself, but said he was not an outcast and they had no reason to think he might be violent.
Authorities have praised youngsters who reacted to the attack. Someone, possibly a pupil, set off a fire alarm during the attack, Mr Seefeld said, which evacuated the school more quickly.
And a girl with "an amazing amount of composure" applied pressure to a schoolmate's wounds and probably kept the victim from bleeding to death, said Dr Mark Rubino at Forbes Regional Medical Centre.
"There are a number of heroes in this day. Many of them are students," state governor Tom Corbett said during a visit to the stricken town. "Students who stayed with their friends and didn't leave their friends."