Children hold candles during a prayer vigil for victims of the Franklin Regional High School stabbing rampage, at Calvary Lutheran Church in Murrysville
By Elizabeth Daley
MURRYSVILLE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - A 16-year-old student wielding two knives went on a stabbing rampage in the hallways of a Pittsburgh-area high school on Wednesday, wounding 22 people before he was tackled by an assistant principal, officials said.
The attacker moved furtively through Franklin Regional High School halls, stabbing his victims in the torso and slashing their arms and faces, students and officials said. Some of the injured taken to nearby hospitals were in critical condition, doctors said.
Students described a scene of panic, with the school hastily evacuated after a fire alarm was pulled. The unidentified sophomore suspected in the attack was in police custody, said Tom Seefeld, chief of police in Murrysville, Pennsylvania.
"He did it so stealthily that at first no one knew what was happening," said freshman Josh Frank. "We heard a girl scream bloody murder. Then two seniors were running down the hall and we followed them out of the school."
The attacker, described by a classmate as a quiet person who kept to himself, started his rampage at around 7:13 a.m. (11:13 GMT), walking along the hallways to several classrooms at the school in Murrysville, 20 miles east of Pittsburgh, officials said.
Assistant Principal Sam King tackled the boy, who was armed with two "straight knives" of about 8 to 10 inches, and an armed security officer handcuffed him with help from King, Seefeld said.
Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck told a news conference that the teen would likely be charged as an adult, possibly with aggravated assault and attempted murder, and then his name would then be released.
Twenty-one students and a security officer were stabbed in the incident, said Dan Stevens, a spokesman for Westmoreland County emergency management.
Two other students suffered nonstabbing injuries - "things like scraped knees and twisted ankles," trying to get out of the school, Stevens added. He added the teenage suspect was not counted among the wounded.
Among those praised for heroics during the incident was Nate Scimio, the student who pulled the fire alarm and helped shield classmates, witnesses said.
"There's not enough words to describe how much of a hero he is," classmate Trinity McCool posted on Facebook.
The victims, most of them 14 to 17 years old, were transported to area hospitals, four by medical helicopters. Several had life-threatening injuries, hospital officials said.
Dr. Louis Alarcon of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center operated on a 17-year-old student and said he had "a large injury to his abdominal wall." The knife "went through his liver, diaphragm and major blood vessels," he said. "Fortunately for this young man, the knife missed his heart and his aorta."
While the United States has seen a number of large-scale school shootings in recent years, mass stabbings are less common.
The suspect was also being treated for injuries to his hands, Seefeld said. By late afternoon, he said, one or two of the victims were "still pretty critical."
Police and the FBI were searching the suspect's home, situated at the end of a quiet cul de sac. Neighbors said both parents work and the teen has a brother who also attends Franklin Regional High School.
"I don't know him really well, but he's always said 'hi'," said neighbor Lori Renda, 47, who said he played with her own children. "The family is so nice. Very, very nice."
A student at the school who witnessed the incident told CNN she had been in several classes with the attacker, who was quiet and kept to himself.
As they were reunited with parents near the hilltop high school in the relatively affluent Pittsburgh suburb with a population of about 20,000, teens spoke about the incident.
Michael Float, an 18-year-old senior, described running down a staircase and finding a friend badly wounded.
"There was a pool of blood," Float said. "He had blood pouring down the right side of his stomach," and a teacher was applying pressure on the wound.
Zak Amsler, a 17-year-old junior, said the attack occurred just before his first class was about to begin.
"I saw a girl with blood running out of her sleeve," Amsler said as he waited to pick up his younger sister, a student at the nearby middle school. "It was pretty mind-blowing."
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said he had ordered state police to help local law enforcement respond to the incident. The FBI also said it had deployed agents to work with local law enforcement.
The high school will be closed for the next two to three days while police conduct an investigation, officials said.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York, Dave Warner in Philadelphia and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Gunna Dickson and Prudence Crowther)