Bloody Wednesday: What Happened at Franklin Regional High School?

Every new round of school violence brings me to tears. It’s like seeing ground-zero after a massive tornado and realizing there’s no way to put it all back together.

April should be a sweet month for high schoolers, with prom night right around the corner and exams still weeks away. But at Franklin Regional High School near Pittsburgh, teenagers are trying to piece their lives back together. On Wednesday, a 16-year-old sophomore named Alex Hribal went on a stabbing frenzy, injuring twenty-one students and a security guard.

The kid apparently wanted to hurt people. He wanted to hurt them so badly that it probably didn’t cross his mind that he may spend the rest of his life – or a good part of it – in a jail cell.

In statements to the media, witness Mia Meixner said she saw Hribal scuffle with another male student in the hall. The victim bled profusely from stab wounds. Meixner reportedly escaped injury as the attacker ran past her.

She also said Hribal was kind of withdrawn, didn’t have many friends, and “kept to himself.”

It seems nobody saw it coming.

I wonder where Alex Hribal fit in within the often complex labyrinth we call high school, the domain of geeks, greasers, stoners, goths, jocks, and preps?

The brother of one witness told ABC News that Hribal wasn’t a “real well-liked kid.”  The older sister of another said it was common knowledge that Hribal had “made some death threats.”

Common knowledge, she said.

How do death threats get to be common knowledge without anyone doing anything about it?

Student Jared Boger, 17, suffered wounds to major organs and arteries. A member of  Seven Springs Ski Patrol, Boger is expected to undergo multiple surgeries and remains  on life-support in critical condition.

I don’t believe that all was as well with Hribal’s family, described by defense attorney Patrick Thomassey as “Ozzie and Harriett.” Ozzie and Harriett were the famous parents of David and Ricky Nelson. Together they comprised America’s “favorite” family while starring in their long-running TV show (1952-1966).

I asked my 18-year-old nephew, a graduating senior, what he thought about the attack.  “I just can’t fathom,” he said. “Something must have been wrong at home. He must have been a really troubled individual. I feel sorry for everyone involved, even (Hribal).”

Thomassey said the teen is small for his age, more like a 12-year-old than a 16-year-old.

Does anyone see a possible connection here between diminutive size and extreme childhood stress?

In the final analysis, isn’t violence something people do because they’re hurt and angry? And if Hribal was so hurt and angry, angry enough to make death threats, why did no one take action?

Before he blew a gasket.

Before he traumatized an entire school.

Before he ripped open innocent children.

I believe apathy exists because people choose not to notice. Because they have their own lives to get on with: Teenagers go to basketball games, dances, cruise Main Street – whatever. Adults are just in too big of a hurry.

Most of all, they don’t want to take the risk. Who wants to stick his neck out and make that call to the police reporting a death threat? Teenagers are afraid of retribution. Adults don’t want to stir up trouble.

And what teacher walks up to a quiet, not-very-popular kid in the hallway and says, “Come down to my office. We’ll sit and have a Coke.”

And certainly no one is going to walk up to his mother in the grocery store and say, “I see Alex at school (games, etc.). He doesn’t seem to have many friends. Is everything all right?”

If only.

We put so much emphasis on tracking sports, the weather and news.  Why can’t we create a system for collecting data on the early  childhood experiences of  young violent offenders and plug it into a program for analysis?

Do it while their histories are still fresh in their parents’ memories.

Go back to the mother’s pregnancy. Was the baby wanted? Was the pregnancy normal? Stressful? Were there complications at birth? Was the baby full-term? Were there any hospitalizations/separations? How did the mother care for the baby? Were his cries attended to immediately?

Did the mother breastfeed/bottle feed? How long did she stay home with the baby? Did she return to work, and at what point? Who cared for the child after that?

At what age did the child wean? Talk? Walk? Potty train?

At what time was the child put to bed? What was the bedtime routine?

The household stress level? Rate on a scale of 1 to 10.

What situations/events in the family might have impacted the child during early childhood (divorce, parent’s illness, death, loss of job, moving, etc.).

You get the idea.  From such self-reported data, and perhaps information from relatives and teachers, we may start to see patterns emerge.  Patterns that reflect problems during infancy and early childhood that brain scientists now tell us is responsible for damaging architecture in the developing brain.

With the fMRI, the technology is now available to look inside the brain and see exactly how it is functioning.

And maybe someday we will be able to quit lying to ourselves that the Alex Hribals of the world are just quiet kids that no one ever expected to go off the deep end.  FFG

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