A 16-year-old student wielding two knives went on a stabbing rampage in the hallways of a Pennsylvania high school on Wednesday, wounding 22 people before he was tackled by an assistant principal, officials said.
Sophomore student Alex Hribal was taken into custody, said Captain Rob Liermann of the Murrysville Police Department.
The 16-year-old stabbed or slashed at his victims in the halls of Franklin Regional High School before being subdued by school authorities.
At least five students were critically wounded, including a boy who was on a ventilator after a knife pierced his liver, missing his heart by only millimetres, doctors said.
Witnesses said Hribal at first tackled a freshman and stabbed him in the belly, then got up and ran wildly down the hall, slashing at other students.
Nate Moore, 15, said he saw the first attack and was going to try to break it up when the attacker got up and slashed his face, delivering 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,” he said.
Hribal “had the same expression on his face that he has every day, which was the freakiest part”, Moore said.
“He wasn’t saying anything. He didn’t have any anger on his face. It was just a blank expression.”
The attack unfolded just minutes before the start of classes at 1,200-student high school, located 15 miles (24 kilometres) east of Pittsburgh.
Doctors said they expected all the victims to survive.
Authorities credited a campus guard and an assistant principal with subduing the assailant.
Student Ian Griffith said he saw a school police officer confront the student, who stabbed the officer. Assistant principal Sam King then tackled the boy, Griffith told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
The wounded campus police officer was treated and later released from hospital.
As to the motive for the attack, Murrysville Police Chief Thomas Seefeld said investigators were looking into reports of a threatening phone call between the suspect and another student the night before. Seefeld didn’t specify whether the suspect received or made the call.
Rushing to help
Mia Meixner, 16, said the initial assault touched off a “stampede of kids” yelling, “Run! Get out of here! Someone has a knife!”
Michael Float, 18, said he had just got to school when he saw “blood all over the floor” and smeared on the wall near the main entrance. Then he saw a wounded student.
“He had his shirt pulled up and he was screaming, ‘Help! Help!’” Float said. “He had a stab wound right at the top right of his stomach, blood pouring down.”
Float said he saw a teacher applying pressure to the wound of another student.
Someone, possibly a student, pulled the fire alarm after seeing some of the stabbings, the police chief said. Although that created even more chaos, he said it emptied out the school more quickly so “that was a good thing”.
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 Center.
Public safety and school officials said an emergency plan worked as well as could be expected. The district conducted an emergency exercise three months ago and a full-scale drill about a year ago.
“We haven’t lost a life, and I think that’s what we have to keep in mind,” said county public safety spokesman Dan Stevens.