Murrysville residents trying to stay strong amid Franklin Regional tragedy
That's all it took for healthy kids from nice homes — and the security guard determined to protect them — to be bloodied by a seemingly emotionless teen thrusting two knives at anyone and everyone in his path.
In just 16 minutes, heroes were born, mettle was tested, innocence lost.
And Murrysville, a sedate bedroom community of cul-de-sacs and manicured lawns, was forever changed, shoved unwillingly onto the same international stage as Columbine High School and Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Life changed on Wednesday morning when, according to police, Alex Hribal, 16, cut a swath through a first-floor hallway of Franklin Regional Senior High School as the school day was about to begin.
And those who have felt the same pain as Murrysville and the small communities of Export and Delmont, which make up the school district, say it will never be quite the same.
Memories never fade
The memories of horrific tragedies never go away, but good things can rise from the heartache, said Mike Scott of Littleton, Colo., brother of Rachel Joy Scott, 17, the first victim in the April 20, 1999, Columbine High School massacre, that claimed the lives of 12 students, a teacher and both gunmen.
“There's really so many factors to deal with in a community and with individuals after such a tragic event,” he said. “People have to make a choice whether they want to make themselves and their communities stronger and better ... or let it bring you down by holding onto the past, holding onto the hate you initially feel and unforgiveness.”
Scott's father, Darrell, and stepmother, Sandy Scott, founded a nonprofit organization, Rachel's Challenge, shortly after the shootings.
“After Rachel died, we discovered six diaries, as well as a lot of people who told us how Rachel touched their lives,” he said.
He doesn't think about how his sister died.
“I do think of how many people we have been able to touch because of my sister,” he said. “Being able to do that has brought some healing to our family — even as we approach 15 years.”
Early on, residents in communities touched by tragedies are busy dealing with pressing needs — in Murrysville's case, maintaining a vigil for those still hospitalized.
At Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 students and six adults were killed by a lone gunman on Dec. 14, 2012, the community faced several immediate challenges, said the Rev. Matt Crebbin, pastor of the Newtown Congregational Church, about a mile from the school.
“We had to do a number of funerals, and that drove home the impact of the violence,” he said.
“(But) the shell-shock feeling can continue for weeks or months,” he said.
Because families are away from their jobs and their routines while victims are hospitalized, “for some, it (will) feel like time has stood still.”
Almost immediately on Wednesday, Murrysville experienced a crush of media from as far away as Spain, Colombia and Great Britain.
Satellite trucks lined fast-food restaurant parking lots. Reporters peppered residents with questions about the attack, whether they knew the victims and what they could tell them about the alleged assailant.
On Sunflower Court, home to Hribal and the vice principal heralded as a hero for wrestling him to the ground and stopping the attack, residents retreated to their homes, closed their blinds, kept their kids inside and refused to answer their doors when reporters came calling.
The quiet town — so similar to Newtown in that affluent professional people had flocked there for decades, in part because of the schools, in part to dodge the problems of urban life — was under siege.
“Reality hit home,” said Murrysville Council President Joan Kearns about her town of 20,000. “We are not isolated ... we tend to think we live in a bubble, and the bubble burst.”
Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller can relate to Kearns' feelings.
When United Airlines Flight 93 plunged into a remote field near Shanksville, Somerset County, on Sept. 11, 2001, Miller was thrust into the international spotlight as the spokesman for his mostly rural county.
“No one was media savvy,” said Miller, who became the point man by default “because I was out there (at the crash site) every day.”
The years have helped him cope with the horror of the day that changed him and the unassuming people of his communities.
Though nothing will make him forget,“with the passage of time, it kind of gets further away,” Miller said.
The trauma of Wednesday's attack will last longer than most can imagine, one expert said.
“It will carry forward for years and years,” said Tracy Soska, assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh's School of Social Work. “It's a sense of a loss of security, a sense of losing innocence.”
And you don't have to live in Murrysville to be shaken by the attack, Soska said.
“All of us feel the violation of that community,” he said.
Though Sandy Hook and Columbine have become synonymous with the violent attacks that occurred there, Murrysville leaders such as Kearns said they're not worried about the stigma.
“We will come out of this as a stronger, more tight-knit community,” Kearns said.
“It's still a very good place that cares about people,” former Mayor Joyce Somers said. “I don't think it will change this town, except for the grief.”
The first test will occur when students return to classes in the high school and “walk down those halls,” Kearns said.
Trib Total Media staffers Stacey Federoff and Paul Peirce contributed. Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.