After Pennsylvania School Stabbing, Community, Students Seek Solace
By Richard Simon and Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times
MURRYSVILLE, PA — Students who witnessed Wednesday’s stabbing rampage at Franklin Regional High School felt as if they had survived a horror movie.
Some attended an evening prayer service for at least 19 students and two adults who were wounded in the morning attack. Alex Hribal, 16, has been charged as an adult with four counts of attempted homicide, 21 counts of aggravated assault and one count of bringing a weapon on school property, said his attorney, Patrick Thomassey. Hribal is being held without bail.
Brenda Gossar, a 10th-grader, was standing at her locker when she turned around and saw a young man stabbing people, she said. One of her friends was stabbed in the back, and Gossar feared she might be next.
“I just ran,” she said.
Other friends were wounded too.
“I thought it was a dream,” Gossar said.
Later, she visited her injured friends in the hospital, where one was in critical condition.
The suspect, Hribal, had been bullied, she said.
“People picked on him,” she said. “I think he targeted people who were bullying him, who he didn’t like. He looked scared, and he looked angry.”
Hribal was quiet, she said, and he had ignored the bullying until Wednesday morning.
On Wednesday night, Gossar had to excuse herself from a prayer service at Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church, which is about a block from the school, to meet with a grief counselor because she’s having trouble dealing with the violence, she said.
She isn’t the only one. “It will be hard for us to walk in the hallways and not think of it, but we’re going to pull through,” she said.
The school is temporarily closed while authorities investigate. Ministers and grief counselors have been made available to the students.
Some of the stabbing victims and their friends joined hundreds of others at another prayer service down the road, at Cornerstone Ministries. Many wore the yellow and blue attire of the Franklin Regional High School Panthers.
Nate Scimio was there, surrounded by his friends, after posting a selfie of himself in a hospital gown and a bandaged arm. He declined to speak to the media.
Sydney Contraguero, a senior, said she was in an upstairs hallway when the fire alarm sounded. She followed Jared Boger, a fellow student, down the stairs, and saw another student coming toward them. At first she thought the student, Hribal, was going to hug Boger, she said. But when Hribal ran away, Boger was bleeding.
“I didn’t even know until I saw blood on the ground,” she said. “It all happened so quick.”
Outside, she saw a girl with a neck wound and a boy with a leg injury, she said.
Boger was still unconscious late Wednesday night, according to a Twitter feed belonging to his brother, Carter.
Hribal’s father appeared briefly outside the family’s home in Heritage Estates, a planned community of spacious homes on hills, many with basketball hoops and hockey nets out back.
“My prayers go out to everyone,” he said, adding that he hoped the victims all recovered.
“Kids are resilient,” said Pastor Brian Smith of Cornerstone Ministries, who visited the school to talk with students after the stabbing. “There was just a sense of a heaviness in the air,” he said.
“We saw an act of evil that took place today, but although we saw an act of evil, we saw many, many acts of good,” said another pastor, Dan Hertzler, who directs student ministries at Cornerstone. He counseled many of the students after the stabbings.
The community as well as the students sought solace Wednesday night.
Joanne Witkowski attended the service at the Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church. Her nephew Brandon Brown, 14, was seriously wounded, even though “he did not know the suspect.”
Her nephew wasn’t even aware he was stabbed, Witkowski said. “He thought that he was punched and then he looked down and saw his clothes were bloody and his shirt was ripped.”
Brown was airlifted to a hospital, where he initially was in critical condition, she said, but had improved to stable by nightfall.
The knife “just missed” his liver but punctured a lung, she said.
Witkowski said her nephew did not know Hribal. “He did not know the suspect — never hurt or harmed the suspect.”
She called the attack “senseless” and said people “need to begin to recognize what the warning signs are.”
Sarah Jean Thompson and her husband, Paul, have lived in the community for 40 years. The retirees attended the Presbyterian service, which was themed “God’s Heart Breaks,” to show support for the community.
“Just like everybody else is saying, this doesn’t happen in Franklin Regional,” Sarah Jean Thompson said.
AFP Photo/Ross Mantle