Police chief reflects in wake of rare violence in quiet Murrysville

Thomas Seefeld has little doubt that, even decades from now, people who have never otherwise heard of Murrysville will speak of the April 9 knife attack in the Westmoreland County community where he is police chief.

He also knows that he and others are changed now, though exactly how much and in what ways are still unclear.

"I don't want this incident to define Murrysville, you know?" Chief Seefeld, 55, of Plum said in a recent interview. "Everybody will move forward, but it will be referred to in history. And unfortunately that's the way it will be."

The chief had just walked into his office at the station that morning when he heard a call for help at Franklin Regional High School.

In a first-floor hallway, shortly after 7 a.m., a student had attacked 21 classmates and a security guard with two kitchen knives he brought from home, police said.

Other than Murrysville police Officer William "Buzz" Yakshe, the specially trained officer assigned to the district who called for help, the chief was the first officer to arrive at the school.

Inside, he found a security guard, John Resetar, stabbed and slumped in a door jamb and Officer Yakshe holding the handcuffed suspect.

In the frenetic moments that followed, the chief applied pressure to the guard's wound, called for and directed help on the police radio and asked his dog handler to sweep the second floor. It was over in minutes.

The chief, himself a husband, father and grandfather, called the crime probably the most traumatic event in his 33 years in law enforcement.

"Anything can happen anywhere," he said. "This shows you that."

Though not of Franklin Regional's magnitude, another bizarre crime last year thrust Murrysville into the headlines.

In February 2013, a man lured his wife to a parking lot near Route 22 under the pretense that her dog had been struck by a car then fatally shot a friend who had accompanied her to the lot before killing himself, police said.

It marked the first homicide in Murrysville in more than a decade.

How does any department, especially one with just 21 full-time officers, handle an investigation like that of Franklin Regional?

Chief Seefeld is calling on the manpower and expertise of the FBI, the Westmoreland County detective bureau and Pennsylvania State Police. Murrysville Sgt. Charles Tappe, who has 26 years with the department, is the lead investigator.

The FBI is examining electronics seized from the home of suspect Alex Hribal, 16, and will help with any other work requested by the district attorney and Murrysville police, said Scott S. Smith, the new special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh FBI office.

"Although we're a smaller police department, I think we're very competent," Chief Seefeld said.

Emotionally, it's harder to tell what lies ahead. The chief said he and others need to "continue to decompress a little and get [our] thoughts back in order." Officer Yakshe has taken a few days off. Counselors are available.

The chief said he doesn't like talking about himself or sound as if he considers himself a victim. But he said the crime "became sort of personal" to him.

"When you're the chief of an area and something tragic like this happens, I think you take it personal. ... That sort of has changed me. It's humbling and bothersome at the time, especially when it comes to the kids. You don't want kids to go through this."

Investigators are still working to determine what motivated Alex, who is charged as an adult and remains in a juvenile detention facility in Greensburg.

His attorney, Patrick Thomassey, who said he has spoken "a lot" with his client since his arrest, believes bullying "is a definite factor."

Police said they still don't have any evidence to support that, though.

Chief Seefeld also said it's not clear whether a Facebook posting he learned of last weekend has anything to do with a possible motive.

Franklin Regional parent Timothy Graham said in an interview that a group of high school students, including his daughter, found the post the day of the attacks and one of them took a screen shot of it.

The posting read: "You rat looking peasant do not ever think you are an equal to me." It was posted on a Monday, the chief said, but with no specific date. It did not directly reference Alex.

"It doesn't have a direct connection at this point, but it'll be looked at," the chief said.

Neither Mr. Graham nor police would name the student who posted it, but the chief said the person was not injured in the attacks and was not one two boys who reportedly received threatening calls beforehand. The chief said he didn't think investigators had interviewed the boy.

Four students remained hospitalized Friday, though three had been moved out of intensive care units.

Greg Keener, 15, is in the ICU at Forbes Hospital, and he is in critical condition, West Penn Allegheny Health System Dan Laurent said in a press release early Friday evening.

The two other students at Forbes Hospital, Derek Jones, 17, and Connor Warwick, 16, have both been moved from the ICU into a step down unit and are both in fair condition, Mr. Laurent said.

Jared Boger, 17, was upgraded to fair condition at UPMC Presbyterian on Thursday, a spokesman there said.

Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1944. Rich Lord contributed to this report.

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