Attorneys say the legal fate of a 16-year-old boy accused of stabbing or slashing 22 people at his Pennsylvania high school will probably pivot more on his mental state than his tender age.
They say the sheer number of victims won't preclude Alex Hribal (RY'-buhl) from being treated as a juvenile. That's something that would assure his freedom by 21.
The boy's attorney is seeking a psychiatric evaluation and will seek to have him transferred to juvenile court.
Authorities say Hribal took the knives to Franklin Regional High School east of Pittsburgh on Wednesday and randomly attacked other students in a crowded hallway. The rampage stopped when an assistant principal tackled him.
Several students went to the hospital. Five remained hospitalized Saturday, including four in critical condition.
Hribal's attorney claimed the teen was dazed "like a deer in the headlights" hours later and doesn't fully grasp what he did.
Deepening the mystery of what set off the violence, attorney Patrick Thomassey said Hribal had no history of mental illness or troublemaking, didn't abuse drugs and was no outcast at school, where the lawyer described him as a B or B-plus student.
"In a case like this, it's pretty obvious to me that there must be something inside this young man that nobody knew about," Thomassey told The Associated Press.
The local prosecutor, meanwhile, said Hribal remained an enigma.
"We have very little information about him," Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said, "except for the fact that he was a student, his age, and how he was as a student."
On Thursday, authorities seized the computer belonging to Hribal's family.
The slender, dark-haired boy who looks younger than his years was jailed without bail on four counts of attempted homicide and 21 counts of aggravated assault. Authorities are prosecuting him as an adult, but Thomassey said he will try to have the case moved to juvenile court.
He said he plans to get his client examined by a psychiatrist before a preliminary hearing on April 30.
"I think his mental state now is unstable. I'm not sure that he recognizes the enormity, if that's the word, of what has occurred," Thomassey said. "And I think in his own mind he's trying to figure out what happened here, as we all are trying to figure out what the heck happened here."
The attack seemingly came out of nowhere, the attorney said.
But a school security consultant said it is often the case that school attacks are perpetrated by kids who officials say weren't on their radar.
"In incident after incident, when you start peeling back the onion, you find there were some indicators, there certainly were some issues. But it takes some time to find," said Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services.
"Often times, it's not the kid who's the class clown or acting out the most, but the kid who's changed, who's turned more introverted or withdrawn," he said. "I think the one consistent theme across all of these is mental health."
President Barack Obama offered his sympathy and gratitude to the principal of Franklin Regional High. The White House said Thursday that Obama called Principal Ron Suvak as the president flew home from a two-day trip to Texas.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama offered his deepest sympathies to those affected. He says Obama talked about the heroism of students, teachers and staff whose actions saved lives.
Police and doctors said one victim, a 17-year-old Jared Boger, underwent multiple surgeries and will have another one this weekend but is improving after suffering a knife thrust that pierced his liver and missed his heart and aorta by fractions of an inch.
Hospital officials say he has been able to communicate with his family.
Boger's brother, Carter Boger, told WPXI-TV via Twitter: ``Right when Jared woke up, he wrote, `It's going to b OK, mom. I love u' and got teary eyed.''
Dr. Louis Alarcon, medical director of trauma surgery at UPMC Presbyterian, said Friday the teenager's prognosis is ``very good ... but there are a lot of hurdles before he comes off the ventilator, comes out of the ICU and leaves the hospital. We don't anticipate problems, but we're being vigilant.''
Another student, Brett Hurt, 16, told of being stabbed in the back.
"What was going through my mind?" Hurt said at a hospital news conference. "Will I survive or will I die."
As for the assailant, Hurt said he hopes that someday "I can forgive him, and everyone else who got hurt can forgive him. First of all, he needs to forgive himself.
It's not clear when the high school will reopen. Officials hoped it would be ready by Monday, but a restoration company won't be finished with its work by then. Dan Stevens, spokesman for the Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety, said some students should be able to return by early in the week and others later.
"It's important that the school looks the way it did Tuesday,'' the day before the attacks, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.