Lawyer: Stabbing suspect like ‘deer in headlights’

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MURRYSVILLE, Pa. (AP) — The 16-year-old boy charged in a stabbing spree at a high school outside Pittsburgh was not a problem student or outcast like those who have been involved in other school violence across the country, and was “like a deer in the headlights” hours after the attack, frightened and depressed, his attorney said Thursday.

Attorney Patrick Thomassey said he believes police are just as puzzled as Alex Hribal’s family about why the teen pulled two knives from a kitchen drawer Wednesday, went to school and “started stabbing people.” He had no history of mental illness and his family didn’t see any sign that he was capable of violence, Thomassey said, deepening the mystery over what prompted the rampage that injured 21 students and a security guard.

“In a case like this, it’s pretty obvious to me that there must be something inside this young man that nobody knew about,” Thomassey told The Associated Press.

Hribal was charged Wednesday night with four counts of attempted homicide and 21 counts of aggravated assault. He was jailed without bail. Authorities said he would be prosecuted as an adult.

Authorities said Hribal stabbed and slashed students Wednesday morning as he ran down a hallway at Franklin Regional High School, about 15 miles east of Pittsburgh. The rampage began shortly after 7 a.m. and lasted about five minutes, ending when an assistant principal tackled the suspect and subdued him.

At a brief hearing Wednesday night, District Attorney John Peck said that after he was taken into custody, Hribal made comments suggesting he wanted to die.

Thomassey said Thursday he hopes to get his client a psychiatric examination before his preliminary hearing on April 30. He plans to try to get the charges moved to juvenile court.

The attack seemingly came out of nowhere, the attorney said.

In other school tragedies, “the kid had problems in the past or was considered by other students to be an outcast,” Thomassey said. But Hribal was a “B and B-plus student” who attended the same school as his older brother, and didn’t get into trouble or abuse drugs, his lawyer said.

Thomassey said he’s heard no indication that Hribal was bullied or didn’t fit in with his peers.

“Other students who have contacted me have told me he wasn’t a weirdo. He was, for the lack of a better word, a fairly popular kid. He just was one of the guys. He fit in well,” he said.

Ten boys remained hospitalized at midday Thursday, including three in critical condition, according to hospital officials.

Police and doctors said one of students had surgery again overnight and is in “very critical” condition. Doctors at UPMC Presbyterian said he suffered a stab wound from a large knife that pierced his liver and missed his heart and aorta by millimeters. Authorities haven’t released the 17-year-old student’s name.

Another injured student, Brett Hurt, 16, said Thursday he was terrified he might die when he realized he had been stabbed in the back.

“What was going through my mind?” said Hurt, appearing at a hospital news conference. “Will I survive or will I die.”

Hurt said he doesn’t think he could return to school anytime soon. “I might freeze,” he said.

Officials said the high school will likely reopen Monday, after the school district hires a company to “clean and restore our building to pre-incident condition,” Superintendent Gennaro Piraino said.

Thomassey said it’s unclear if Hribal is remorseful or understands.

“I think his mental state now is unstable. I’m not sure that he recognizes the enormity, if that’s the word, of what has occurred,” Thomassey said. “And I think in his own mind he’s trying to figure out what happened here as we all are trying to figure out what the heck happened here, because there was no indication of any problems in this young kid’s life.”

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Associated Press writers Joe Mandak in Pittsburgh and Michael Rubinkam in northeastern Pennsylvania contributed to this report.

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