April 9, 2014: Franklin Regional High School Stabbing


WHAT HAPPENED? (1)


On April 9, 2014, a 16-year-old sophomore at Franklin Regional High School brought a pair of kitchen knives to stab over 20 students and a security guard. Though 4 students sustained life-threatening wounds, everyone survived the attack.

ABOUT THE STABBING


A few minutes before classes started on April 9, 2014, Alex Hribal, who wore all black clothing, began stabbing and slashing students in the school's first-floor hallway. He stabbed several people, and then pulled the fire alarm, hoping to bring more students into the hallway. Witnesses said that he looked "emotionless" during the attack.


He wounded 20 students and a security guard before the school's assistant principal, Sam King, along with student Ian Griffith, were able to stop him. While he was being restrained, he said, "My work is not done. I have more people to kill." Which you have to admit is a little funny, considering he killed not one person.


Officials did not believe that he targeted any specific person. Including himself, 22 people were injured. 12 were sent to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where one male and one female were in critical condition, 2 males were in serious condition, and two girls were in fair condition. One victim's liver was damaged when the knife pierced it and had to be placed on a ventilator, and another had an open face-wound that required 11 stitches. The victims ranged in age from 14 to 17.


8 additional patients were taken to Forbes Regional Hospital, and several of those victims experienced serious injuries, such as deep abdominal wounds. The last of the victims was discharged on May 18, 2014, a full recovery for everyone.


In addition to the victims of the stabbing rampage, 2 other students were injured while trying to flee the school from Hribal.

ABOUT THE STABBER

The perpetrator, Alex Hribal, was a sophomore at the high school described as "quiet", "smart" and as having "a good future ahead of him". Despite being the shy kid on the outside, Hribal said that he had been depressed and had experienced suicidal thoughts in 5th grade, and when he started attending high school, those thoughts came back.


Before the stabbing, it is believed that he had threatened 2 students over the phone, but neither of those students were attacked. He also testified that he had been planning the attack since September 22, 2013, months before the stabbing spree.


After the stabbing, his home was raided, and several items were seized. Inside, the police found a notebook that had a knife holder, assumed to have held the knives used in the attack. His cell phone was seized, and a note was found dated April 6 that said, "I can't wait to see the priceless and helpless looks on the faces of the students of one of the 'best schools in Pennsylvania' realize their previous lives are going to be taken by the only one among them that isn't a plebian". So, red flag.


On September 26, 2014, a psychologist testified that Hribal was inspired by the Columbine massacre, and that he had initially hoped to carry out the stabbing on April 20, the 15th anniversary, but because it fell on a Sunday, his backup plan was April 9, the birthday of one of the Columbine perpetrators.

THE TRIAL


Initially, Hribal was charged as an adult, pending trial for 4 counts of attempted homicide, 21 counts of aggravated assault, and one count of carrying a weapon on school property. However, after a note was found by investigators that clearly declared his intent to take as many lives as possible during the attack, he was charged with 21 counts of attempted homicide, instead of just the 4 for the victims who were critically injured.


In June 2014, Hribal pleaded not guilty and waived a formal arraignment. He was ordered a mental health assessment. He was supposed to be transferred to a psychiatric hospital, but they refused to admit him for safety concerns. 3 psychiatrists, however, testified on his behalf, claiming he had major depressive disorder and schizotypal personality disorder.


The trial date was repeatedly postponed, and a hearing was held to determine if he should be charged as an adult or a juvenile. Victims of the attack testified, hoping that he would be tried as an adult. In September of 2015, the judge allowed him to stay in a juvenile detention center, but would have to move to Westmoreland County Prison to await trial once he turned 18.


Hearings and testimonies were ongoing as experts tried to determine if he should be tried as a juvenile or adult. While the prosecution argued that his planned attack traumatized the victims and community, the defense argued that nobody had died and many had already moved on. A decision was made in May of 2016: He would be tried as an adult.


Finally, in October of 2017, Hribal pleaded guilty to 21 counts of each attempted homicide and aggravated assault. He and his family did not want to put victims through reliving the attack at trial. He had wanted to go to trial and plead guilty but mentally ill, but settled for just pleading guilty when that was denied. On January 22, 2018, he was sentenced to serve 23.5 to 60 years in prison.


When children are gunned down at their schools, when concert goers are shot while listening to their favorite artist, when worshippers are killed at church, it is always contentious. Because beyond everyone agreeing that it is terrible when people are killed in mass shootings, some believe guns are to blame, while others say that guns don't kill people, and if a person wanted to kill people, they could find a way.


And that is true: If you wanted to kill someone, there are lots of ways to do it. But, if you want to kill as many innocent classmates or movie-goers or grocery store shoppers as possible, a gun would make it a lot easier. And it is really evident here. The perpetrator wanted to take as many lives as possible. But, for whatever reason, he didn't bring a gun, he brought knives. And despite attacking 21 people, every single one of them lived.


This is certainly NOT to downplay this event. Though the victims recovered, they experienced an extremely unique kind of trauma: A classmate of theirs got within inches of them and tried to kill them. A killer was right in their face, trying to take their life. They were hurt, some given only a 30% chance to survive their injuries. And those who weren't attacked experienced trauma the same as any school shooting: Knowing you might not get to go home that day. The lasting effects on the victims, the school and the community are immeasurable.


The perpetrator was mentally ill, sure, but he also had control over his actions and chose to bring 2 knives to school and slash and stab his fellow classmates. Everything was so, very similar to a school shooting: But no one died. And 20+ people being injured with 0% of them dying can very likely be attributed to the weapon he brought.


But, despite just making that point, I don't want to use this event as the event that helps make the point that gun control needs to be taken seriously. Because the victims and community aren't an example. They aren't the poster child for "mass school attack that doesn't kill people", because the fact that nobody died doesn't make it less traumatic for all involved.


On this day, 6 years ago, just like any other school attack, kids hid and texted their parents telling them they loved them. Teachers did everything they could to protect their students. Parents heard on the news or from friends or family and drove to the school as fast as possible to see if their child made it out alive. Another family was horrified to find out that their loved one was the one who caused it. Friends and family prayed at the hospital that everyone would make it out okay. The lives lost aren't the only things that matter in a horrifying, traumatizing event such as losing the feeling of safety at school.


But, of course, the happy ending is that the killer went to jail and the victims survived, and went on to get a second chance at life.

REFERENCES:

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin_Regional_High_School_stabbing


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