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Westmoreland

Secret Service gets secret report from Alex Hribal's court file to study school violence

Rich Cholodofsky
| Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, 6:00 p.m.

The Secret Service will have access to a confidential report generated to help a Westmoreland County judge craft the 60-year prison sentence imposed earlier this year against a former Franklin Regional High School student convicted in the attempted murder of 20 students and a security guard in 2014.

Investigation details, court records and sentencing evaluations of Alex Hribal were recently turned over to the special agents who are assessing school violence issues around the country, officials said Friday.

“The Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center conducts research into a wide array of targeted violence, including violence in schools. The National Threat Assessment Center is currently working on their next report and in doing so they are looking into cases of school violence across the country,” said Julia McMurray, a public affairs specialist with the Secret Service.

The agency in July released its latest review of school violence incidents as part of a report to assist local school officials with assessing potential threats and offer recommendations to reduce violent incidents that have increasingly grown over the past two decades.

Hribal’s case could be used as part of the agency’s next study.

In January, Westmoreland County Judge Christopher Feliciani sentenced Hribal, now 21, formerly of Murrysville, to serve 23 1/2 to 60 years in prison. Hribal pleaded guilty several months earlier to bringing two kitchen knives to school and using them to slash and stab students before class on April 9, 2014. He is appealing the sentence, claiming it is too long.

No one died during the Franklin Regional attack, but several students were seriously injured.

A comprehensive presentence report was crafted by the county probation office that reviewed Hribal’s background, mental health history and other factors to assist the judge before he imposed the prison sentence. The judge this week agreed to release that report to the Secret Service.

Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said his office previously turned over investigative reports and other court filings associated with Hribal’s case.

“Everybody’s looking for an answer to stop this kind of violence,” Peck said.

Hribal’s records could provide a treasure trove of information. Hribal’s court case featured testimony from several psychologists who interviewed him about the attack and the reasons for it. Hribal was diagnosed by defense-hired experts as suffering from depression and schizophrenia before the knife rampage.

Investigators found a lengthy hand-written manifesto in Hribal’s school locker that he wrote days before the attack in which he described his state of mind and attempted to explain the reasons for the actions he was about to take.

In court during his sentencing hearing, Hribal testified he had been bullied at school.

Dr. Sarah Daley, a criminology professor at Saint Vincent College who specializes in mass shootings and school violence, said Hribal’s case offers a rare chance to learn more about the mind of an attacker. More than half of those who commit violence in schools end up committing suicide during the attack, she said.

“In every instance of school violence we learn something, and everything we can find out can help. This case is unique because he used knives. Maybe he didn’t have access to guns,” Daley said.

A report published earlier this year by the Educator’s School Safety Network found there were 279 violent incidents at schools during the 2017-18 school year. That number increased by 63 percent over the previous year, the report concluded.

Dr. Amy Klinger, agency founder, said studying the circumstances of situations such as Hribal’s attack can help prevent violent incidents.

“It’s beneficial what we see, to identify trends and determine what is different about each case. The only way to prevent these is to know where they are coming from. We need to look at whether there was a disclosure of information. Were other people concerned. Were people egging them on, if there was a catalyst,” Klinger said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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