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Murrysville

Franklin Regional alum joins group studying extremist behavior at Slippery Rock

Patrick Varine
| Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, 4:36 a.m.
Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz appears in court via video with public defender Diane Cuddihy in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018. Slippery Rock University’s Project Obsidian aims to study the factors that trigger attacks like the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting Cruz is accused of perpetrating. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz appears in court via video with public defender Diane Cuddihy in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018. Slippery Rock University’s Project Obsidian aims to study the factors that trigger attacks like the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting Cruz is accused of perpetrating. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
Caleb Woyt of Murrysville is part of Project Obsidian at Slippery Rock University.
Submitted photo
Caleb Woyt of Murrysville is part of Project Obsidian at Slippery Rock University.

Caleb Woyt was already thinking about a career in homeland and corporate security during his high school years.

When fellow Franklin Regional student Alex Hribal brought two kitchen knives to the high school in April 2014 and injured 20 students and a security guard during Woyt’s junior year, it sealed the deal.

Woyt, 21, of Delmont is taking his education a step further by participating in Slippery Rock University’s “Project Obsidian,” which aims to produce marketing materials for parents, teachers, school administrators and the general public to help identify activity that could lead to extremist behavior.

Eight Slippery Rock students, including Woyt, will undertake the project with the aid of Jonathan Henry, assistant professor of homeland and corporate security studies and a former emergency management specialist with the City of Pittsburgh.

The knife attack, as well as the recent Tree of Life synagogue mass shooting in Pittsburgh and the Parkland High School mass shooting in Florida, are prime examples of what Project Obsidian members want to study.

“That’s the type of thing we’re working on: to find out what causes or triggers these attacks, what causes these people to carry out such attacks and then how to stop it,” Woyt said. “It’s very important because in-school violence is on the rise. It’s going to be impossible to stop everybody, but finding out what we can do to stop even one event is important.”

In furtherance of that mission, Project Obsidian members are hoping to partner with officials from the FBI’s Pittsburgh field office.

“At the FBI field office, they don’t have as much time to produce these types of marketing materials,” Henry said. “We can take a step back and look at the bigger picture to do research and evaluate models of radicalization that’s outside of the FBI’s usual scope.”

So far, the FBI has only held a preliminary meeting with Project Obsidian members according to spokeswoman Catherine Policicchio, and there are still quite a few details to work out. But Henry said he hopes to develop a long-term working relationship with the bureau.

He envisions students analyzing cases and looking for types of iconography, websites and computer apps being used, as well as other behaviors exhibited by extremists, to assist them in their research.

Woyt said Henry is an invaluable resource on his own.

“He worked in the field, so he’s done things I might pursue as a career,” Woyt said. “When we’re in class, he’ll often talk about his personal experience, which helps me to learn more about what happens out in the field.”

The FBI partnered with University of Pittsburgh students in February for a similar undertaking, where students looked for common factors in active shooter incidents, in an effort to gather intelligence and prevent them in the future.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, pvarine@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.

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