Local students react to Franklin Regional tragedy
April 13, 2014

While local students are shocked and upset that a violent attack like the one on Wednesday at Franklin Regional High School could happen so close to home, administrators are ensuring they are well taken care of.

Police say Alex Hribal, 16, who is a sophomore at that school, faces four counts of attempted homicide and 21 counts of aggravated assault after using two large knives to slash 20 of his fellow students and a security guard just before the first bell rang.

The Franklin Regional High School is in Murrysville, Westmoreland County, just more than 30 miles away from Mars and Seneca Valley school districts. The story of the tragedy has been covered since Wednesday by the national media, and Gov. Tom Corbett visited Murrysville on Wednesday to share residents’ grief over the situation.

Mars High School athletes play various sports in leagues that include Franklin Regional High School students, which makes the situation more real at Mars.

“I was shocked,” said Mars junior Liz Matusik as she walked to her car at dismissal Wednesday. “You hear about these things happening farther away from us, but to have it happen this close really brings things into reality.”

Kendall Angeletti, a Mars junior, said she and most students were online all day checking updates on the situation.

“I was scared,” she said. “I guess it can happen anywhere, and so close to us, too.”

Brad Nanna, also a Mars junior, lamented that a Franklin Regional student was apparently able to access the school with a weapon.

“It makes us feel better about our school’s safety,” Nanna said.

Mars High School security measures include a captured entrance where a security guard must unlock a door to allow access, metal detectors, and a visual check of bags. All visitors must sign in before being allowed into the adjacent office or hallway.

“It’s shocking that a student would have that access and could bring a knife into school without being checked,” said Mars junior Tyler Grove.

Reghan Jones, a Mars junior, also said she felt scared when she heard of the stabbing.

“I’m happy we have a bag check and metal detectors, because it would be harder for this to happen here,” she said.

Mars Superintendent Jim Budzilek said on Wednesday that any situation in which students or staff are injured is “the worst tragedy any school district can ever endure.”

He said he contacted all Mars administrators Wednesday morning to make sure they all were aware of the nearby situation. Budzilek then emailed all the staff members in each of the district’s five schools and two administration offices.

“I asked them to stay diligent in all their safety measures,” Budzilek said.

He said the day proceeded as usual at Mars, but the high school guidance counselors were made available to any students or staff affected by the situation at Franklin Regional.

A letter from Budzilek was emailed to all Mars parents and placed on the district’s website.

Budzilek said in the letter that students could access their building’s guidance counselors if need be, and assured parents that Mars’ safety measures are a top priority in the district.

“We work closely with our local law enforcement officials to ensure the safety of our students, faculty and staff members,” Budzilek’s letter stated.

He also encourages students in all grade levels to immediately report potential threats to the district or local police.

“Any and all threats are taken seriously and will be investigated thoroughly,” Budzilek wrote.

The superintendent of the Seneca Valley School District on Wednesday afternoon sent a letter to parents reaffirming the district’s commitment of safety in the wake of the stabbings.

Tracy Vitale said in the letter that administrators felt it was important to address the subject of school security and communication, especially because both issues are a “team effort” between the district and parents.

Vitale said in the letter it is “imperative” to keep open the lines of communication to ensure students’ safety.

“We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to share with us information you may hear from your child or within the community,” she said. “This includes threats of any nature and information about students intending to harm themselves or others.”

Vitale also urged parents to talk to their children about the stabbing, but encouraged them to reassure those children that school is a safe place and that violence “is an isolated and rare occurrence.”

The district provides “numerous efforts” to maintain security in the schools, Vitale wrote, including captured entrances that bar entry for anyone before their identity is verified.

Hribal will be charged as an adult in the crime, according to news reports.