Franklin Regional High School students and teachers will return to normal schedules today, one week after the knife attack that injured 21 students and a security guard.
Hundreds of students visited the school Tuesday during an optional, informal opportunity to readjust to their surroundings before classes resumed.
Junior Jenna Miller, 17, spent about 90 minutes at the school and described a lively scene in which students were smiling and laughing in the hallways and teachers greeted visitors with hugs and chocolate.
On each locker -- even the corner ones that are hard to reach -- read a small sign with sentiments like: "We're OK, keep pushing, FR Panthers."
"We didn't expect to stay so long, but then we saw all of our friends and the teachers," she said. "I was surprised at how great it was. I thought it was just going to be very quiet, but everyone was loud, everyone was talking."
Investigators said they are still trying to determine what led 16-year-old sophomore Alex Hribal to slash or stab his fellow students with two kitchen knives at the school last Wednesday. He was charged as an adult in the attack and is being held without bond at the Westmoreland County juvenile detention center in Greensburg.
Jenna's friend, Derek Jones, 17, and Greg Keener, 15, were hurt in the attack and remained in the intensive care unit at Forbes Hospital in critical but stable condition Tuesday. The third stabbing victim listed in critical condition at that hospital, Connor Warwick, 16, was released from the ICU and moved to another unit Monday.
Jared Boger, 17, was in critical condition at UPMC Presbyterian after a fourth surgery over the weekend, but his condition was improving, doctors said.
Assistant superintendent Mary Catherine Reljac said students directly affected by the attack were welcomed first on Tuesday, followed by sophomores, freshmen, juniors then seniors. Some came with parents, siblings or friends, and some came alone. Some stayed for 10 or 15 minutes, she said, and others for an hour or more.
"We saw a lot of healing going on," she said.
Students returning to the hallway of the science wing where the attack occurred will notice little change. The walls were "refreshed" with some paint (as they would be for the first day of school), but many students asked that the hallway, and the school, not look any different than before, Ms. Reljac said.
Banners from schools and community supporters near and far adorned the walls. Some districts have sent food or pictures of their students wearing Franklin Regional colors.
Therapy dogs and their handlers volunteered in shifts Tuesday, starting at 6:30 a.m.
A Border collie named Piper, 11, was one of five dogs assigned to the hallway where the stabbings occurred. He approached students who seemed especially sad, nuzzling and licking them, said Jan K. Mayr of Hannastown, the dog's handler, trainer and owner.
"The counselors were amazed at Piper's ability to gravitate to the people who needed him the most," she said, adding later that he and other dogs "coaxed some smiles" from students and staff.
Counselors, student ambassadors and the dogs will be available again today.
Junior Haley Zeliff and her mother, Tamara, were sitting in a coffee shop near Franklin Regional Tuesday afternoon, trying to decide if they wanted to stop by the school.
Last Wednesday, the 17-year-old pulled up to see emergency vehicles and her peers running out of the building. Waiting in the line of cars this morning, recalling the chaos she arrived to, "might be pretty weird," she said.
"I just think a lot of comfort is lost," she said.
Molly Born: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1944. Staff writers Rich Lord and Linda Wilson Fuoco contributed. First Published April 15, 2014 9:23 AM