Twenty people were injured during a stabbing rampage at a Pennsylvania high school early Wednesday, authorities said.
A 16-year-old sophomore identified as Alex Hribal by KDKA brandished two knives while spreading terror before the school day could begin in several classrooms and a hallway on the first floor of Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville — a typically peaceful community about 18 miles east of Pittsburgh.
Nineteen students and an adult security guard were injured, officials said. That school officer subdued the knifeman with the help of Assistant Principal Sam King.
Four students suffered life-threatening stab wounds, but all are expected to survive.
Dr. Chris Kaufman, director of trauma at Forbes Regional Medical Center, described some of the worst wounds as “more than an inch [wide],” and “multiple inches deep.”
“The stab wounds were large in my experience, even an ice pick wound can be lethal … but these were all impressively large holes in each of the patients that I saw,” he said at an afternoon press conference.
“Some of these patients may require multiple surgeries over time to get through their injuries,” Kaufman added. “We worry about them hour by hour but a week from now we should have a very clear sense of how all these patients are doing.”
Reese Jackson, the CEO and president of Forbes, who lives just three blocks from the school, emphasized how tight-knit their community is. An obstetrician on staff watched as children he delivered returned with stab wounds.
“It’s really a traumatic experience for everyone concerned,” Jackson told the Daily News. “We have eight families here. We are really trying to attend to their emotional and spiritual needs.”
Mark Rubino, chief medical officer for Forbes Hospital, explained that the slashes appeared to follow a pattern. The knifeman aimed for the lower abdomen causing severe damage to internal organs.
“The critical nature of these injuries really demanded an acute response,” he said.
Most of the other injuries were “stab wounds to extremities,” according to Dan Stevens, deputy emergency management coordinator for Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety. Others were scrapes and bruises.
Police and paramedics rushed to the scene in Murrysville after the first call came into 911 about 7:13 a.m.
A male suspect, who was treated for a minor hand wound, is in custody and being interrogated by police. Investigators have not determined a motive.
He has not been officially identified yet.
Mia Meixner, a sophomore at the school, witnessed the attack. She told USA Today that the suspect was “really shy” and “always kept to himself.”
“He didn’t talk to many people,” she said.
Murrysville police Chief Thomas Seefeld described the scene as vast and said it could take several days to process.
Seefeld noted how important it was that a student pulled a fire alarm after the violence broke out. It created a chaos and spurred students to flee the school to safety.
“The fire alarm being pulled probably assisted with the evacuation of the school and that was a good thing that that was done,” he said.
Classmates identified the student who pulled the alarm as Nate Scimio, who later tweeted out a selfie from the hospital with a bandage around his arm.
But he was far from the only hero.
Jackson said that one teen girl, whose mother is a health care professional, applied pressure to the wounds of several students and possibly saved their lives.
“What a tremendous act of courage,” Jackson told The News. “She talked to some of the physicians here and they were very complimentary of her actions.”
After the attack, the high school students were evacuated to the district’s middle school. Parents were then told to report to the town’s elementary school to reunite with their kids.
Some parents learned that their children were so badly wounded they needed to be airlifted from the scene.
“We have eight patients being taken into Forbes. Their ages range from 15 to 60,” Jesse Miller, communication officer for Forbes Hospital, told the Daily News. “I can also confirm that we have another patient being taken to our parent hospital, Allegheny General Hospital.”
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center treated a dozen patients. Five have been discharged.
When Kaufman was asked what the scene could have been like if the weapon was a gun, he didn’t shy away from painting a much more grisly scene.
“The bullets would have gone through the patients and more people would have been injured and the bleeding would have been more severe,” he said.
Morris Hundley, the father of a high school student, moved to Murrysville so he could raise his daughter in a safe environment. He told CBS Pittsburgh he spoke to her daughter over the phone. Her best friend was among the victims.
“She was just frantic. I never heard her talk like that,” he said to the station. “That’s why I got off the phone right away and came here as soon as I could.”
Hundley added said that his first order of business is to give his daughter a big hug as soon as he sees her.
As of 2 p.m. the scene is reportedly secure and the lockdown has been lifted.
The school district, which serves roughly 3,600 students from the communities of Murrysville, Export and Delmont, posted the following statement on its website:
“A critical incident has occurred at the high school. All elementary schools are cancelled, the middle school and high school students are secure. Additional information will be released as soon as possible. Please keep our campus clear of traffic.”
Counseling services will be available for the entire school community. The high school will be closed for the next few days, but the elementary and middle schools will stay open.
“[Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] is a real entity,” Kaufman said before Rubino echoed that concern.
“We’re having students respond to their friends … and you can see that some of these students appear to have some degree of shock and distress,” he said. “Prom is coming up and that’s what should be on their mind.”
Superintendent Gennaro Piraino also expressed his thanks for the ourpouring of support received.
“We appreciate the thoughts, prayers from our local community as well as across the nation,” he said.
The FBI is assisting local law enforcement with the investigation into this incident, particularly concerning the suspect’s background.
“There’s a lot of healing still to come,” Jackson said.