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Heroes in all forms step up during Pennsylvania school stabbing

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(CNN) — What do you do when terror comes to your hometown? When it walks down your school hallways and into classrooms, wielding two kitchen knives? When it leaves behind pain, suffering, chaos?

If you’re students and staff at Franklin Regional Senior High School, you act.

Wednesday’s violent spree at the suburban Pittsburgh school ended with 20 students and one adult with stab wounds, plus two students with other injuries, according to police. Yet even as one doctor from Forbes Regional Hospital in nearby Monroeville described some of their injuries as life-threatening, another from the same facility said he expects all the victims to survive.

The fact that their prognosis wasn’t worse and the fact that there weren’t more victims are tributes to an assemblage of people, who made a difference in ways big and small.

These people stepped up in the face of confusion and terror to help each other, doing everything from pulling a fire alarm to smartly, to tenderly nursing victims’ wounds, to subduing the alleged attacker, to now rallying to provide comfort to their neighbors.

As Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said, “There are a number of heroes on this day.”

Students, teachers help each other

To the vast majority, it was just the beginning of another day at Franklin Regional Senior High in Murrysville, a small city of 20,000 about 20 miles east of Pittsburgh. A little over a week before the start of an abbreviated spring break. Just under two months from the end of school for the year.

Very quickly, things changed.

Student Mia Meixner recalled “a commotion behind me,” then saw one boy on top of a freshman, stabbing him.

“And the freshman boy stood up off the ground, and he lifted up his shirt and was gushing blood from his stomach all over,” Meixner told CNN. “It was very terrifying.”

Three students helped this victim, trying to take him to a nurse, according to Meixner. But he wasn’t the only one: Meixner spotted a girl with her arm “gushing blood” and herself offered to help.

A teacher then approached, as did a flood of people running down the hallway screaming, “Get out, run! He has a knife.”

It was then, Meixner recalled, “The teacher said, ‘I’ll take care of her. You can run.'”

This was one of many school staff — from cafeteria workers to aides to administrators — who made helping the wounded a priority even with the danger still on the loose in the school.

Matt DeCesare, another student, saw teachers pulling students outside to safety. Some had the idea of asking for everyone’s hooded sweatshirts, which they fashioned into makeshift tourniquets to stem the bleeding.

“The teachers kind of blocked the students (from view) because it was not good to look at,” said DeCesare. “But from what I could see, that was very effective.”

And Dr. Mark Rubino, from Forbes Regional Hospital, singled out one female student with applying pressure to one victim’s wounds, buying him precious time to get treatment and, perhaps, live to see another day.

Talking more generally of everyone involved at the school, Gov. Corbett said, “Their quick thinking and their professional response in working together (helped) save lives.”

Assistant principled tackled suspect

After about five minutes, it was over.

Not that it ended easily or quietly.

Assistant Principal Sam King managed “to tackle the suspect,” said Murrysville Police Chief Tom Seefeld, without elaborating on exactly how he did so.

King had help in subduing the alleged attacker, a 16-year-old sophomore who was ultimately led away with minor injuries to his hands.

He was aided by the school’s other assistant principal, Joan Mellon.

Also there was a security officer, who Mark Drear — the vice president for the security company at the school — said suffered stab wounds.

And school resource officer William “Buzz” Yakshe was involved from beginning to end, from alerting police by radio about the chaos to being one of the stabbing victims to ultimately handcuffing the suspect.

Dan Stevens, an emergency official with Westmoreland County’s public safety department, said later that Yakshe was “doing fine.”

“He’s more upset than anything else over what happened, because these are his kids,” said Stevens.

‘Be around and be present’

“Those four individuals (and) courage” helped bring an end to the violence, Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck noted.

But it did not mean an end to the anguish and agony.

This pain was most obvious in hospitals around western Pennsylvania, where the wounded were being treated for injuries to their torso, abdomen, chest, back and limbs, including two victims who were rushed to surgeries.

Even those not wounded physically, though, suffered. Whether they witnessed the bloodshed directly, knew people who did, or just tried to make sense of what happened, it won’t be easy to turn the page.

“It feels really surreal,” said Meixner, the Franklin Regional Senior High student. “…You never think it’s going to happen at your school. And I’m really mind-blown by it.”

Getting her and other students through this ordeal now becomes the task of other “heroes,” authorities said.

They might be parents offering a shoulder to cry on, counselors brought in to lend their expertise, or strangers offering a smile or a prayer to someone

As Dan Hertzler, a pastor at Cornerstone Ministries in Murrysville, said, none of these people will have “all the answers.” But what they can do is be there for each other, much like fellow students and staff at Franklin Regional Senior High were there for the wounded on Wednesday.

“The biggest thing right now is really just to be around and be present,” Hertzler told CNN. “Many of these students just need to feel the love and safety of their family and friends, to be able to grieve with the community.”

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