Community turns out for Franklin Regional students' return to class
Bill Evans hugged his oldest daughter for an extra few seconds early Wednesday morning.
The sun was just rising as they stood inside the front door, taking cover from the unseasonably cold air.
“You need to talk to somebody — call me, text me,” he said, and then he let Gracey Evans go.
A quiet morning routine resumed at the Murrysville home, as it did for many in the Franklin Regional School District, as students returned to classes a week after a mass stabbing.
Sophomore Alex Hribal, 16, is charged as an adult with bringing two kitchen knives to Franklin Regional Senior High School and slashing or stabbing 19 classmates and a security guard in a first-floor hallway just after 7 a.m. on April 9.
Four male students remain hospitalized.
Along the drive to school, students and faculty were greeted with yard signs proclaiming “We Are FR Strong” and ribbons of blue and gold, the school colors. About 30 parishioners at nearby Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church stood on the side of Old William Penn Highway holding signs of encouragement, said Associate Pastor Marnie Silbert. Students waved and gave thumbs-up signs in return.
“We invited the congregation to come down and just stand along the road in solidarity with senior high folks today as they headed back to school,” Silbert said.
The school was open for students and faculty to visit informally on Tuesday. District officials saw to it that the hallway where the attacks occurred look just as it did before, as students requested.
Gracey Evans, 17, sipped a glass of chocolate milk at the kitchen table before the school bus pulled up.
She faced that hallway on Tuesday with a group of a dozen friends, including Brett Hurt, 16, who is recovering from a stab wound in his back. Evans applied pressure to Hurt's wound until medics arrived.
“Going in by myself is going to be rough,” she said. “I'm just going to go straight (to) my locker.”
Counselors and therapy dogs welcomed students on Wednesday morning, said Assistant Superintendent Mary Catherine Reljac.
“I don't think we ever will have a typical day again,” she said.
Many students paused in the halls to look at banners and messages of support tacked up on the walls.
“We saw students smiling when they saw their friends,” Reljac said. “The building today has a sense of hope in it and a sense of healing.”
Ray Grabowski, director of behavioral health services for Excela Health, said 13 specially trained Excela counselors were deployed to help the students and staff as part of the county's Disaster Crisis Outreach and Referral Team.
“Normally, when the team is deployed there aren't as many victims, and the incident in and of itself — the scope of the incident — is not as large,” he said.
The counselors were first available at a church and later at another school. That's important so that the person associates the counselor and sound of his or her voice with a safer, more comfortable environment, Grabowski said.
“We know by our experiences that the sooner we can start the recovery process and the more sensitive we are to how we construct that process, the better the outcome is,” Grabowski said.
“First and foremost, the goal is to communicate a sense of safety ... for the individual that the chaos of the incident has passed,” he said. “You gradually reintroduce the individual to the site of the incident.”
Community support has embraced first responders, as well.
A steady stream of food and kind words has flowed in at Murrysville Police Department and Murrysville Medic One.
“We just couldn't ask for anything more from the community,” police Chief Tom Seefeld said after a woman dropped off three packages of cookies. “They support us, and they know everybody's going through a rough time now.”
Neighboring ambulance services provided relief and a listening ear after paramedics finished transporting patients from the stabbing scene, said Darrick Gerano, administrative director of Murrysville Medic One.
“Obviously, this took a toll on our crews that day,” he said.
Thank-you letters have arrived at the station from neighborhood children, businesses, students and even those injured in the attack, he said.
April Evans, 15, shared a quick hug with her father on Wednesday morning then followed her sister, Gracey, out the door to the bus stop in front of their home. She didn't witness the stabbing and has been ready to get back to school.
“Be good, girls. Love you,” Bill Evans called out after them.
And then, as he does every day when the pair boards the bus, he sent a text message wishing them a good day.
“It was kinda tough,” he said, watching them go. “You can't let something like this rule your life.”
Staff writer Kari Andren contributed. Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.