MURRYSVILLE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) – Pennsylvania officials sought a motive on Thursday for a stabbing rampage at a high school where a 16-year-old student was accused of wielding two knives and wounding nearly two dozen people.
The attacker stalked through Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville near Pittsburgh on Wednesday, stabbing victims in the torso and slashing their arms and faces with 8-inch steel blades before being tackled by an assistant principal, officials and students said.
Sophomore Alex Hribal was taken into custody and charged with attempted homicide and aggravated assault, Murrysville Police Department Captain Rob Liermann said.
The teen had no psychiatric or disciplinary problems, and his family described him as a good student who mingled well with others, family lawyer Patrick Thomassey said in television interviews.
“He was not a loner,” he told CNN on Thursday.
Thomassey said he met with Hribal for 20 minutes before his arraignment on Wednesday, but could not identify a motive.
“We’re trying to figure that out,” Thomassey told CNN. “This is a nice young boy. I mean, nobody would expect this. This is not a dysfunctional family. They’re like the ‘Brady Bunch.’ His parents are active with their two sons.”
Hribal’s parents were horrified and sent their condolences to the victims and their families, he said.
Hribal was charged as an adult, but Thomassey told CNN he would try to move him into the juvenile court system.
Twenty-one students and a security officer were stabbed in the incident, said Dan Stevens, a spokesman for Westmoreland County emergency management.
While the United States has seen a series of large-scale shootings in public places in recent years, including schools, movie theaters and shopping areas, mass stabbings are less common.
Police and the FBI on Wednesday searched the suspect’s home. Neighbors said both parents work, and the teen has a brother who also attends Franklin Regional High School.
The high school will be closed, probably until Monday, while police conduct an investigation, officials said.
Murrysville Police Chief Tom Seefeld told CNN that authorities were investigating a report of a threat made the night before the stabbings, but had no evidence to support that.
The victims were aged mostly 14 to 17 years.
Among the most seriously injured was a 17-year-old boy, who remained in critical condition at UPMC Presbyterian hospital early Thursday following surgery, a hospital spokeswoman said. A knife had passed through his liver, diaphragm and some major blood vessels, but missed his heart and aorta.
At least seven other teenage boys were recovering overnight in two other hospitals
On Wednesday evening, community members held candlelight vigils for the wounded.
Among them was 14-year-old Mikala Boyer, who said she fled as the attack unfolded, but her friend was badly injured.
“Someone came running down the hallway screaming ‘this kid has a knife and he’s stabbing people’ … I ran outside into the woods behind the school,” she said.
Hribal faces four counts of attempted homicide and 21 counts of aggravated assault, police said. He was ordered to face a preliminary hearing in seven to 10 days.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Daley in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, Jonathan Allen in New York, Dave Warner in Philadelphia, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Scott Malone, John Stonestreet and Bernadette Baum)