Another school tragedy occurred this past week in Pennsylvania, as 16-year-old Alex Hribal slashed, stabbed, and assaulted fellow high schoolers and teachers with two kitchen knives. Authorities, though, are still searching for a motive.
“They’re like the Brady Bunch. These parents are active with their two sons, and we’re trying to figure out what happened,” said Patrick Thomassey, Hribal’s lawyer. “All the students liked him. He wasn’t a loner. He worked well in groups, and this happened. So there’s a reason for it–that’s what I’m saying. And we have to get to the bottom of that.”
Mia Meixner, a fellow student who shared classes with Hrbial, was witness to the attack. “From past experiences with him, he hasn’t been violent at all. He’s actually been a really nice kid from all the times I’ve talked to him. He was just more of a shy kid, and kept to himself,” said Meixner. The fellow student also said that she didn’t think anyone was bullying him, either. “He was nice whenever you would talk to him. I never thought anything bad would happen with him.”
“We believe, through the investigation, that this was random,” Murrysville Police Chief Tom Seefeld told CNN. The chief also said that investigators have yet to make sense of the mass stabbing. “We don’t have anybody that was targeted, as far as we know at this point.”
Hribal faces four counts of attempted homicide on top of another 21 counts of aggravated assault. Hribal is being charged as an adult, but Thomassy hopes to file a motion to put the case in juvenile court. He also said it’s vital to have a psychiatrist examine his client to see “where he is mentally.”
Adding that Hribal feels remorse for his actions, Thomassy said, “I’m not sure he knows what he did, quite frankly.”
Though Hrbial showed no outwards signs of psychiatric turmoil, it’s certainly possible that the youth was struggling. Over 11 million people in the U.S. have severe mental illnesses, like major depression, severe schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, but millions go without treatment.
To further complicate the issue, the approach of the federal government has been a mish-mash of outdated, ineffective programs and policies across a myriad of agencies.
Congressman Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania sponsors The Helping Families In Mental Health Crisis Act, which hopes to fix the broken mental health system, and may hopefully bring some aid to students like Hribal.
“If it turns out in this stabbing case that the student-defendant is going to plead a form of insanity defense then Pennsylvania will likely apply the common law M’Naghten Rule [18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 314] with the burden of proof on the defendant to prove this mental incapacity,” explains Maria A. Sanders, COO and senior staff attorney for Legislative Intent Services, Inc. “Under M’Naghten, the test to determine if a defendant can distinguish right from wrong is based on the idea that the defendant must know the difference in order to be convicted of a crime. After the Pennsylvania high school sophomore defendant offers his plea, we will learn the legal grounds upon which his defense of “not knowing exactly what he did” will be asserted.”
It’s also possible that mental illness had nothing to do with the attack. One possible lead that police are looking into is a potential phone threat from the night previous to the attack. However, no immediate evidence can confirm that the call was even made. The FBI have since seized Hribal’s electronics, which include his cell phone and computer, to analyze them for more leads to the baffling and inexplicable attack.