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Pennsylvania school stabbing: Authorities try to pin down a motive

April 09, 2014|By Tina Susman, Alana Semuels and Richard Simon | This post has been updated with the latest developments.

MURRYSVILLE, Pa. — It took only a few minutes, what the governor would call “one horrific five-minute period,” for a 16-year-old high school student wielding two kitchen-size knives to attack 21 people at Franklin Regional Senior High School outside of Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Hours after the onslaught, authorities said they were still searching for a motive.

“What made this young man decide to get up today and do this?” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett asked at a news conference on the school campus. He offered no answer.

The student, described as an average and “kind of quiet kid” by fellow students, stabbed and slashed at classmates before being tackled by school staff. At least two students suffered critical injuries, but all of the wounded were expected to survive.

In an evening news conference, Westmoreland County Dist. Atty. John W. Peck said the unidentified suspect would likely be charged as an adult, with aggravated assault and possibly criminal intent to commit homicide. Scott S. Smith, FBI special agent in charge for the Pittsburgh field office, said the suspect's computer was being seized.

Police and medical workers credited students, including one who pulled a fire alarm and another who applied direct pressure to a badly injured classmate’s wound, with ensuring that the casualty count was not far higher. “Under these circumstances … the first thing you want the students to do is to run,” said Thomas Seefeld, the police chief of Murrysville, about 20 miles east of Pittsburgh.

And run they did, pouring out the front doors of Franklin Regional Senior High School as police and ambulances arrived at the campus. Recordings of emergency calls revealed a soundtrack of shouts and screaming sirens as first responders came upon the wounded lying on the grass outside the school and inside the first-floor hallway.

PHOTOS: Pennsylvania high school stabbing

“I don’t know what’s going down here at school, but I need some units here ASAP,” one official radioed. “Be advised: Inside the school we have multiple stab victims, OK?” another said.

As the magnitude of the attack became clear, a medical helicopter was dispatched to the scene, thundering over the school and landing on a soccer field to carry some of the wounded to hospitals. Inside, officials said later, blood coated the hallway where the stabbings occurred.

State Rep. Tim Krieger said he was one of the parents who received a call “that no parent ever wants to receive.” His daughter, who attends the school, was fine. But, he said, “the joy and relief we felt as a result of hearing she was fine was tempered by the fact that some parents tonight do not have that.”

Officials said the attacker was a sophomore at the school who suffered injuries to his hands. He was quickly handcuffed and taken into custody.

Julie Nitchman, who sits near the suspected assailant in an English class, described him as “very quiet, not very social.” “He’s more like into computers. A kind of quiet kid,”  she said, adding: “I wouldn’t really expect this from him.”

“Oh my God,” said Michelle Kresak, a neighbor in the hilly housing development where the suspect lives. “Super nice kid,” she said of the boy. “I remember giving him Halloween candy.”

Sophomore Mia Meixner, 16, told the Los Angeles Times that at first she thought two students were fighting in a hallway in the school's science wing shortly before homeroom. But a male freshman, who was believed to have been attacked by the assailant, stood up, lifted his shirt and revealed wounds to his stomach.

“I saw blood gushing everywhere,” Meixner said. The suspect then sprinted down the hall stabbing anyone who was in his way, she said.

“He was knocking people over,” Meixner said.

The brother of one injured student told The Times that his sibling, Jared Boger, a junior, was stabbed in the chest. “He's in critical condition but they've stopped the serious bleeding,” Carter Boger said.

Alex Carolla said his 17-year-old sister, a senior, was stabbed in the hand and taken to a hospital. ”She’s stable; she’s OK,” said Carolla, a 19-year-old sophomore at Ohio University, adding: “When I talked to her, she seemed all right, but she got a little more upset when I asked her about the other kids, who else was hurt.”

Carolla said his sister told him that she had just arrived at school at 7:13 a.m. and had not even made it to her locker when the stabbing began on the school’s first floor.

“The juvenile went down a hallway and was flashing two knives around,” Seefeld said.

Alarms quickly sounded through the building, which has a student body of about 1,200 and 82 teachers on staff.

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