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Franklin Regional parent had bullying concerns before knife rampage

| Saturday, April 12, 2014, 10:40 p.m.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
A school bus drives past a sign of support at the Calvary Lutheran Church near Franklin Regional High School on April 11, 2014.
Evan Sanders | Tribune-Review
Friends Valentina Frepoli (right) greets Lauren Gillespie, both juniors at Franklin Regional High School greet each other with hugs at Fox' Pizza Den warehouse facility and GoFancy.com screen printing shop on Friday, April 11, 2014.
Evan Sanders | Tribune-Review
Messages dotted along Route 22 which moves through the Murrysville community on Friday, April 11, 2014.

A Franklin Regional parent said Saturday that police have been alerted to an online taunt sent the night before to a 16-year-old student who went on a rampage at Franklin Regional Senior High School on Wednesday morning.

A screen shot of the posting by another student that called Alex Hribal, 16, a “rat face” was turned over to police on the same day he slashed and stabbed 20 students and a guard in the school.

Timothy Graham said he is concerned about the issue because school officials ignored his pleas to intervene in bullying that targeted his daughter and escalated into her being attacked in the cafeteria.

Alicia Graham, a freshman, was assaulted on Jan. 30 by a girl who jumped on Alicia, hit her with a cafeteria tray and beat her until a teacher pulled her away, Graham said.

His daughter suffered a concussion and missed three days of school. School officials declined to tell Graham what punishment was received by her attacker.

Graham said he took a list of bullying text messages and social media posts “four to six” students sent to his daughter — some that encouraged her to kill herself — to the school “sometime around Halloween.”

“I felt like they kind of waved a gold wand over it. They said it's an affluent (community),” Graham said. “My daughter just said that's how it is at Franklin. Everybody bullies everybody.”

Graham said he gave the school a list of his daughter's alleged tormentors.

It included the name of the male student who posted the message ridiculing Hribal, Graham said.

Hribal allegedly went into school with two stainless steel knives and attacked other students in a hallway. He has been charged as an adult for attempted murder and aggravated assault.

Hribal's attorney, Patrick Thomassey, said he has received about 20 anonymous phone calls and messages from concerned students who want him to know “that things have happened” involving Hribal.

Thomassey said he was unaware of the taunt described by Graham, who said a student who took a screen shot of the posting brought it to Murrysville police shortly after the attacks.

“What upset me the most was that officials are saying we're not aware of a bullying problem in school. They're saying we have a great anti-bullying procedure in school ... (but) it's vague at best,” Graham said.

Sgt. Tom Kusinsky said he had no knowledge of that report and Chief Tom Seefeld and the investigating detective were not available to comment.

District Attorney John Peck declined to comment. “We're looking at anything that comes forward to us,” he said.

School board member George Harding declined to comment. He referred any questions on alleged bullying to the administration.

Assistant Superintendent Mary Catherine Reljac declined to answer questions about whether district officials were aware of bullying incidents involving Hribal. She declined to discuss how many instances of alleged bullying had been reported to district officials in recent years.

“There is an active investigation going on regarding this incident and those questions need to be directed to law enforcement,” Reljac said.

School board member Roberta Cook said she had no knowledge of any bullying that might have involved Hribal, other than media reports. She would only say that the district does have a bullying prevention policy. Other school board members did not return messages seeking comment.

The policy, adopted in 2004, said all district students have “the right to a safe and civil educational environment.”

The zero-tolerance policy would cover intentional ridicule via an “electronic act,” and noted that “consequences for students who bully others may include not only counseling or a parent conference, but also discipline such as detention, suspension and/or expulsion.”

In the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Safe Schools report for 2012-2013, Westmoreland County schools reported a total of 26 incidents of bullying. Franklin Regional reported zero, according to the report.

Brett Myers, a senior at Franklin Regional, said most students don't believe bullying incited Hribal.

He acknowledged that some bullying occurs, but “you just don't see kids getting pushed into lockers or books being” swiped out of their hands.

Myers said the school's anti-bullying program includes biweekly meetings with students and teachers that allow students to anonymously discuss issues.

Four students remained hospitalized in critical condition on Saturday.

Kristin Brennan of Murrysville, said she talked to her son Luke, 18, a senior at Franklin Regional, after the attacks.

She said that her son said that “people are pretty sensitive” to the issue of bullying, and have reported problems to district officials.

“I do feel like if people know about it, they would take action,” Brennan said.

Staff writers Renatta Signorini, Bill Vidonic, Greg Reinbold and Nicole Chynoweth contributed to this report. Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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