Pa. Community Focuses on Healing, Prayer After Tragic School Stabbing

Several churches around Murrysville, Pa., area have held prayer vigils and counseling sessions this week to offer hope and healing for those affected by the brutal stabbing spree that left 22 people injured at Franklin Regional High School on Wednesday.

(Photo: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)People hold candles during a prayer vigil for victims of the Franklin Regional High School stabbing rampage, at Mother of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church in Murrysville, Pa., April 9, 2014.

Several churches in the community penned their doors this week after the attack to offer counseling services to those who wished to attend. One such church, Newlonsburg Presbyterian Church, located next to the school, hosted professional counselors and a prayer vigil.

"It's hitting very close to home for a lot of them," the church's administrative assistant Shelley Earhart told the Pittsburg Post-Gazette.

Another priest, Father William J. Lechnar of the Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church in Murrysville, told the Pittsburg Post-Gazette that although people are hurting from Wednesday's tragedy, they must also look to the power of prayer for healing.

"This terrible and sad event affects our parish, our young people, the school district and our communities," Father Lechnar said in a statement. "During this season of Lent, we are reminded of the importance of prayer. This evening, we will turn to God and ask in prayer for his healing for the victims of this tragedy. We also will pray that God comfort everyone who has been impacted by this act."

The Diocese of Greensburg also issued a statement regarding the stabbings on its website, with Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt calling on Christians to pray for peace and mercy in this "senseless act of violence."

"We pray for peace in our homes, our schools, our workplaces and our world. In this penitential season of Lent, we also ask for God's mercy on the person responsible for this act. May God hear our prayers, protect our children, and bring strength, peace and hope to all affected by this tragedy."

At the Calvary Lutheran Church prayer service this week, Rev. David Weeks said he had no explanation for what happened, but he could offer God's word as guidance.

"I can share with you God's word and try to explain one of the foundations of our belief system as Christian human beings," Rev. Weeks said.

The reverend also stressed the importance of communal solidarity during such trying times. "In honor of those victims, in honor of the families that wait for good news of their recovery, in solidarity with the rest of the community, we'll stand, we'll stand and have our candles lit."

One church member attending Calvary Lutheran suggested that now is the time to review the underlying issues that have caused numerous school attacks in the past two years. "Here again we're witnessing young people being hurt and I feel very strongly that we need to address the underlying issues," said church member Joan Smeltzer.

Police have identified 16-year-old sophomore Alex Hribal as the suspect in Wednesday's stabbing that left 21 students and a security guard wounded, with some sustaining serious injuries. Hribal is believed to be the attacker who went on a stabbing rampage before school began using two knives, reportedly attacking anyone in his way while running down a crowded hallway.

Police continue to search for a motive as to what may have prompted the 16-year-old's vicious attack on his classmates. Hribal's defense lawyer, Patrick Thomassey told reporters that his client was a good student, not a loner and not a victim of intense bullying.

The suspect is being held without bail at Westmoreland County juvenile detention center. His charges have been filed as an adult, but his defense lawyer can attempt to have them transferred to a juvenile court when he speaks with a judge. He has been charged with four counts of attempted murder, 21 counts of aggravated assault and possession of a weapon on a school campus.