April 9, 2014: at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, PA, a 16-year old male student stabbed 19 fellow students and one adult, leaving four in critical condition.
A 16-year-old boy was charged Wednesday after he allegedly stabbed 21 students and an adult — leaving four seriously injured — during an early-morning attack at a high school near Pittsburgh, authorities said . . .
Fox News has confirmed the identity of the suspect as Alex Hribal, a student at Franklin Regional Senior High School, the scene of the stabbing spree. The sophomore was being charged with four counts of attempted homicide, 21 counts of aggravated assault and one count of possessing a prohibited weapon on school property, according to a criminal complaint released by Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck.
Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held described Hribal as quiet, adding that the teenager had not been talking to authorities since he was taken to be arraigned before a district judge Wednesday. He was jailed without bail.
Police said Assistant Principal Sam King tackled the boy and disarmed him, and a Murrysville police officer who is regularly assigned to the school handcuffed him.
Fellow students described the attacker predictably:
Alicia Graham characterized the suspect as a ‘small, skinny’ classmate who didn’t talk much. She didn’t know him personally, but has acquaintances who do, she said.
Also predictably, some news sources have suggested that the attacker was bullied. This was not the only common element obvious in this attack.
Roberta Cook, a Franklin Regional School Board director and a member of its safety committee, said the local schools have well-practiced procedures in place for such events.
All indications are that those “well-practiced procedures”—whatever they might have been–had almost no influence on the outcome. Cook also expressed an understandable, but ill-informed opinion:
But I’m just glad it wasn’t a shooter, because if it had been a shooter, there would have been fatalities,’ Cook, whose children previously attended the school, told FoxNews.com.
Also common was the time frame:
A security guard at the school, in an affluent community about 15 miles east of Pittsburgh, notified authorities at 7:13 a.m. In all, the rampage lasted about five minutes.
All of this follows common patterns seen in previous school violence. The attacker—when a student—is usually said to have been bullied. If false, this early media-trumpeted claim is usually never corrected, so bullying—whatever that might or might not be—has become something of a modern myth.
One factor that’s almost universally accurate is that the police pay virtually no role in actively stopping the attack. A third factor—the suicide of the attacker—didn’t play out this time because an administrator was, fortunately, in a position to stop and help restrain the attacker.
Michael Daly at the Daily Beast was on Cook’s wavelength:
So there might well never have been the remarkable selfie that 16-year-old Nate Scimio took after his heroism at Franklin Regional High School had he faced a gun rather than two knives on Wednesday morning.
Daly’s reasoning is self-serving:
Instead of posing for a selfie with a half-smile in a hospital gown, Scimio and who knows how many of his classmates might very well have been as dead as the three soldiers who were mourned by President Obama on Wednesday in the aftermath of the latest mass shooting at Fort Hood. Obama attended a similar ceremony at the base five years ago, after a previous mass shooting left 13 soldiers dead.
Obama might even now be planning a trip to a memorial in this small Pennsylvania town 20 miles east of Pittsburgh if the mayhem at Franklin High had been perpetrated with a 9-mm pistol like the one the 2009 Fort Hood gunman used or the .45 caliber pistol the more recent shooter wielded.
Had there been a gun at Franklin High, the dead might very well have included the school safety guard known to the students as Sarge, who was stabbed in the stomach while trying to stop the attack. The very brave vice principal, Sam King, who then jumped in, might have been killed before he subdued the 16-year-old suspect.
The severity and number of injuries Daly acknowledged would seem to belie his premise:
In all, the sophomore who allegedly stormed through the school in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, stabbed Scimio and 19 students along with one staff member. Three students were critically injured.
One, a girl, was saved from bleeding to death when a classmate kept paper towels pressed against her wound. Another, a 17-year-old boy, was stabbed with such savagery that the wound in his abdomen was 2 inches wide and extended almost to his spine. The blade pierced his liver and diaphragm, missing his heart and aorta by a fraction of an inch. He was on life support after emergency surgery, but doctors remained hopeful he would survive.
And, as of the end of the day, none of the 21 victims had died. Scimio had managed to escape serious injury even as he shielded several students from the attacker and took a moment to pull a fire alarm to alert everyone else. A fellow student named Trinity McCool credited him on Twitter with saving her and a friend.
Cook and Daly are partially correct, but their observation obscures the real issues. It’s possible that had the attacker been armed with a firearm more would have been injured or killed, but there is no question that edged weapons are as deadly as firearms, particularly when one considers that the majority of lethal force encounters with guns are easily within knife range. In many ways, the wounds they inflict are more painful and long-lasting than gunshot wounds.
The police recognize this, and competent police training includes the Tueller drill, which comes from an insight and research by police officer Dennis Tueller. An attacker armed with a knife can close a distance of at least 21 feet, perhaps more, before a defender armed with a firearm can react, draw, fire and stop them. This is true of the average person armed with a knife, not a trained martial artist. Therefore, virtually anyone holding a knife within 21 feet represents a potentially lethal threat.
A single attacker armed with a knife, particularly in a crowd, can cause substantial damage, as was demonstrated in this case. Too many media commentators know little or nothing about weapons and tactics. Firearms are not magical death machines. Each and every one must be properly and carefully aimed, and more than 80% of those hit by handgun bullets do not die.
One of the reasons so many died at Sandy Hook Elementary is because the shooter used a rifle; handguns are much more common. Long guns are easier to shoot accurately at almost any distance than handguns and rifle cartridges tend to be more lethal. The killer was able to corner large numbers of particularly helpless victims—small children and their female teachers—at close quarters, huddled in groups. In such circumstances, even a single bullet can wound or kill two or more.
In a terrible irony, the kind of “well-practiced procedures” schools use virtually always include gathering students into tight groups and hiding, which increases the potential lethality of attackers when they find those groups. Common “run and hide” policies actually aid determined attackers, who, planning mass murder and suicide, have no compunction about damaging property by shooting out locks and windows to get at hiding children.
“But hiding behind locked doors will protect students against knife-wielding attackers!” Yes, but only to the extent that they don’t attack when large numbers of students are not behind locked doors–as was the case in this attack–and only if the attacker is not prepared to breach those doors and windows, which in most schools, are only capable of delaying a determined attacker by mere seconds.
While Cook and Daly are not entirely wrong, any attack in a school employing deadly weapons, with the likely exception of effective explosives which have the potential to kill hundreds, has the potential to seriously injure or kill very large numbers of innocents. What goes unaddressed, as always, is the sole effective means of deterring and stopping these attacks: armed school staff.
After the Sandy Hook attack, the NRA advocated armed security in every American school. There are four primary problems with this. A single armed security officer is expensive. The largest part of any school budget is salaries, and in the age of Obama, money is tight at best. In order to place a security officer at the school and school activities, which take place until late in the evening and on weekends, a large number must be hired. For most American schools, even hiring a single officer is just not financially possible.
Many modern schools are very large indeed. A single officer will almost certainly be nowhere near where an attack begins. Even running at a fully sprint—assuming he is immediately aware of the attack and can immediately determine precisely where the attack is taking place and can find the attacker without delay—delay will cost lives.
Most importantly, a single security officer becomes a primary target. At the 2005 attack at Red Lake High School in Minnesota, the single security officer—he was unarmed—was the first person the shooter killed.
Allowing school staff to carry concealed weapons, even if a given school doesn’t have a single teacher on campus so armed, confers on all schools in the area a powerful deterrent effect. And if an attack occurs, particularly if multiple staff members are armed, the probability that the attacker will meet armed resistance immediately is greatly enhanced. At the very least, facing multiple armed opponents greatly increases the probability that a shooter will be quickly, and finally, stopped.
Some suggest that teachers would not want to carry handguns, but consider that when a single training session organized by the late Chris Kyle was held in Texas, more than 500 (some reports indicated more than 700) teachers attended.
Ultimately, what matters is not which anti-bullying policies are in place, whether a school has “well-practiced procedures,” locks, or gun-free school zone signs, but if multiple, responsible adults are present and ready to effectively respond when an attack occurs. If they are not, many lives will be irrevocably changed and lost before the police can arrive, and the victims and survivors will care little about the exact nature of the weapons used. That might be something for school boards, administrators and principals to keep in mind between now and the next mass school attack.
Mike’s blogs at Stately McDaniel Manor.