Thursday, April 10, 2014

Preparation Helped Save Lives at Franklin Regional

I don’t usually comment on breaking news or crisis situations like yesterday’s Franklin Regional High School stabbings out of deference to all of the people involved and all of the authorities and others still trying to do their jobs.  That said, it’s not too early to point out a couple of things that went right.

What Happened 

Based on news reports from AP and others, 24 people were injured in what has been described as a “mass stabbing,” allegedly by a 16-year-old sophomore at the school who was said to be wielding two large knives.  This took place in the hallway at the school just a little while before classes were set to begin for the day.

According to reports, 21 students were stabbed, a school security guard was stabbed, and two others were injured.  It is not clear how those two were injured or if it was the direct result of the student with the knives.

Five students were said to have been critically wounded, one of whom was a student whose liver was pierced, the knife missing his heart by millimeters.

Reports are that one of the victims is said to be in critical condition, and his prognosis is still uncertain.  Otherwise, the others are expected to survive.

The teenage suspect in the attacks was arrested yesterday and arraigned last night.  He has been charged with attempted homicide and 21 other counts. 

How it Unfolded 

There are roughly 1,222 students who attend the school.  The situation started in a classroom when the attacker reportedly pulled out two knives and started slashing and stabbing fellow students.  Those students, some of them already wounded, ran into the hallway with the suspect in pursuit.

The hallway was lined with students at their lockers and walking to class.  This was around 7:10 a.m.  At that point, the suspect seemed to attack students indiscriminately as he ran down the hallway with two knives in hand.  By 7:13 a.m., a school security guard called in the stabbing.

It’s not quite clear the order of things, but according to all reports, one student who realized what was happening pulled a fire alarm to evacuate the school. That caused students who were in other classrooms to crowd into the hallway.

At this time, Officer William "Buzz" Yakshe of the Murrysville police department, a school resource officer at the district, was in his office, which he shared with Sgt. John Resetar, a school security officer.

When both heard something happening in the hallway, Yakshe went toward the cafeteria and Resetar went down the hallway against the flow of fleeing students.

Resetar saw the suspect with knives in hand, who lunged at Resetar and stabbed him.  Still, Resetar held the suspect while trying to take away the knives.

Yakshe encountered Resetar bleeding from his stomach.

By then, assistant principal Sam King arrived and tackled the suspect.  King and Resetar had wrestled with the suspect when private security guard, Officer Ken Wedge, provided support.  Some news reports indicated that a high school senior named Ian Griffith also joined the melee to subdue the suspect.

At that point, the situation was under control, but the effort to triage the victims had just begun.

Resetar was later treated for a stab wound above the rib cage.  He was released from the hospital later in the day.

According to school district officials, the district had done a good deal of training on how to respond to critical incidents like this, but that the lion’s share of that training centered on gun violence.

Still, school officials said that the training provided protocols that helped security subdue the suspect as quickly as possible while evacuating the school. 

Emergency responders were involved in this training, which made it that much more effective when 911 calls went to dispatchers, ambulances were dispatched, nearby police departments were called in to provide support, medical evacuation helicopters were dispatched to the scene, and nearby emergency rooms and trauma centers were mobilized to prepare for the treatment of incoming victims.

Television news stations aired the audio of the 911 dispatch last night, which reinforced all of the news reports that the response protocols worked like clockwork, and probably saved lives. 

The Wild Card 

Perhaps the biggest wild card in this situation was the student body.  No one could reasonably know in advance how the students would react in a real time of crisis.

Nate Scimio, a student at the school, was the one who pulled the fire alarm.  This alerted students and staff to evacuate.

Other students tended immediately to their wounded classmates.  In one instance, doctors credited student Gracey Evans for saving the life of a classmate and friend by keeping pressure on his wound for roughly ten minutes until emergency responders could come to their aid.

Throughout the whole ordeal, school officials said that everyone – staff and students – followed the protocols that they had learned from training and drills, and it saved lives.

Murrysville Mayor Robert Brooks told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Seeing the activity that went on at the schools, the teachers and the kids that pushed each other's out of harm's way, the kids that stayed with their friends and put compresses on. ... It's just amazing." 


On the communications front, the news media arrived en masse as soon as police scanners lit up in their news rooms.  Law enforcement and emergency responders quickly established a perimeter around the high school and designated areas where reporters could station themselves as the responders did their jobs.  They remained engaged with the media throughout.

It's worth noting that while social media was a factor, it was not a dominant source of information on the incident because law enforcement and the school district were so actively engaged with reporters on the scene.

This allowed the school district to focus on what it needed to do to cooperate with police and other crime scene investigators, and then communicate with staff, students, victims and their families, and the families of all of their students.

Then there are some things you just can’t plan, and that is having individuals around who seem to know instinctively what to do and what to say. Even in situations like this, words like “hero” can be over-used. But here I want to point out one of the students who is being described as a hero.  Not only did Ian Griffith respond to the attacks as we hope we would if placed in a similar situation, but it’s the way he handled the media here that caught my attention.

He handled this impromptu media interview with no media training, no talking points, no plan, and yet he was as professional an interviewee as you could hope for.  He didn’t speculate.  He stuck to the facts.  He didn’t ramble. And he didn’t let reporters put words in his mouth.  And yet the whole time, he gave reporters what they needed and came across very polished, positive and mature. 

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