MURRYSVILLE, Pa. — Flailing away with two knives, a 16-year-old boy with a “blank expression” stabbed and slashed 21 students and a security guard in the crowded halls of his suburban Pittsburgh high school Wednesday before an assistant principal tackled him, authorities said.
At least five students were critically wounded, including a boy who was on a ventilator after a knife pierced his liver, missing his heart and aorta by only millimeters, doctors said.
The rampage — which came after years in which U.S. schools have geared much of their emergency planning toward mass shootings, not stabbings — set off a screaming stampede, left blood on the floor and walls, and brought teachers rushing to help the victims.
The motive was under investigation.
The suspect, Alex Hribal, was taken into custody and treated for a minor hand wound, then was taken to court in shackles and a hospital gown and charged with four counts of attempted homicide and 21 counts of aggravated assault. He was jailed without bail, and authorities said he would be prosecuted as an adult.
At the brief hearing, District Attorney John Peck said that after he was seized, Hribal made comments suggesting he wanted to die.
Defense attorney Patrick Thomassey described him as a good student who got along with others, and asked for a psychiatric examination.
The attack unfolded in the morning just minutes before the start of classes at 1,200-student Franklin Regional High School, in an upper-middle-class area 15 miles east of Pittsburgh.
It was over in about five minutes, during which the boy ran wildly down about 200 feet of hallway, slashing away with knives 8 to 10 inches long, police said.
Nate Moore, 15, said he saw the first attack and was going to try to break it up when the boy got up and slashed his face. The wound 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.
The attacker “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.”
Assistant Principal Sam King finally tackled the boy and disarmed him, and a Murrysville police officer who is regularly assigned to the school handcuffed him, police said.
King’s son told the Associated Press that his father was treated at a hospital, although authorities have said he did not suffer any knife wounds. “He says he’s okay. He’s a tough cookie and sometimes hides things, but I believe he’s okay,” Zack King said. He added: “I’m proud of him.”
In addition to the 22 stabbed or slashed, two people suffered other injuries, authorities said.
“There are a number of heroes in this day. Many of them are students,” Gov. Tom Corbett said during a visit to the stricken town. “Students who stayed with their friends and didn’t leave their friends.”
As for what set off 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.
The FBI went to the boy’s house, where authorities 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 neighbor for about 13 years.
Mia Meixner, 16, said the initial assault touched off a “stampede of kids” yelling: “Run! Get out of here! Someone has a knife!”
Meixner and Moore called the attacker a shy and quiet boy who largely kept to himself, but they said that he was not an outcast and that they saw no indication before the attack that he might be violent.
“He was never mean to anyone, and I never saw people be mean to him,” Meixner said. “I never saw him with a particular group of friends.”
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.