Questions remain about Franklin Regional suspect's mindset
What set him off?
What sparked a 16-year-old boy who is accused of swinging two kitchen knives to lash out at schoolmates, then tell authorities after his arrest that he wanted to die?
For the Franklin Regional community, which is struggling to process the April 9 attack that injured 21 people, the questions are unanswered — and might linger for several more months. Police say the accused, Alex Hribal, isn't talking to them, and Hribal's attorney hasn't revealed anything about his client's impulses.
Experts who investigate crimes or study the psychology of violence say there are countless reasons why someone viciously acts out.
Some offenders might be reacting in the moment to a major insult or even a minor slight, said John Cencich, director of the Institute of Criminological and Forensic Sciences at California University of Pennsylvania. But others' aggression might stem from a long-buried issue, he said.
“There's no absolutes in life, but if you look at the research, they don't just snap,” said Cencich, whose specializations include behaviorally-based threat assessments.
“They don't just become insane.”
At this point in the case, investigators haven't said if Hribal has any history of mental illness. As is common for defendants in violent crimes, Hribal underwent a psychological evaluation over the weekend.
Experts are quick to distinguish that a diagnosis of a mental disorder doesn't automatically explain an offender's violent actions. However, a Butler County-based pastoral counselor who works with children on anger-management issues says that the majority of children with anger issues also have some sort of mental-health issue.
“Most of these kids have told me they just don't know how to stop acting out the behavior,” said John Neyman, who has been a therapist for 30 years.
Dr. Bruce Mapes, a psychologist based in Chester County, said mental-health officials are seeing two types of profiles for violent incidents.
In the past, most of the cases were perpetrated by antisocial people who had previous run-ins with police, he said. Now, experts are seeing a rise in what he called “targeted-type offenses,” in which an offender lashes out despite not giving anybody many clues of problems before.
Often, these cases have a suicide component, although adults more often are involved than juveniles are, Mapes said.
“We need to be careful that we don't think that everyone ‘quiet' and ‘withdrawn' is trying to kill or we can get into witch-hunt types of things,” he said. “Some people just like to be quiet and withdrawn.”
With police locked in on Hribal as the person responsible for the bloodshed, prosecutors are building a case against him.
Though Hribal was charged as an adult with attempted homicide and aggravated assault, his attorney, Pat Thomassey, said he'll try to shift the case to the juvenile court system.
Bruce A. Antkowiak, a law professor at St. Vincent College, said the court will take a long look at whether the defendant would be served by the juvenile system by consulting a lot of psychological services.
“This is not a 12-year-old kid,” said Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor. “This is a 16-year-old individual, and the seriousness of the incident and the number of victims weighs heavily against the transfer of the defendant.”
Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.