The mass stabbing at a Pennsylvania high school Wednesday morning that left at least 20 individuals injured – at least four of whom are reported to have serious injuries – highlights the fact that schools need to be prepared for many different forms of attack, not just shootings, one school safety expert says.
A male student at Franklin Regional High School – located in Murrysville, Pa., near Pittsburgh – entered the school campus armed with a knife early Wednesday morning and began making his way through several classrooms and hallways, reports said. Emergency crews were called to the school around 7:15 a.m., a local NBC affiliate reports.
Students were able to escape the building when another student pulled the fire alarm, and the assistant principal tackled the 16-year-old suspect, according to ABC News.
Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, says the incident brings attention to the fact that school staff need to be properly trained to address all kinds of violence, not just shootings, which often get more public attention.
"We've had almost a tunnel-vision focus on active shooters after Newtown and the Sandy Hook shooting," Trump says. "But this certainly can remind us that the issue is not the weapon itself – it's how the violent attack can be delivered in a number of ways."
Though mass stabbings such as the incident at Franklin Regional High School are not as common as mass shootings, Trump says on a day-to-day basis, there are more knives confiscated in schools across the country than there are guns.
In the last 12 months, there have been at least 10 reported stabbings at schools across the country. Most recently, on March 26, a 19-year-old student stabbed another at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, a public high school in Cambridge, Mass. A day before that, in Ontario, Calif., a 16-year-old student stabbed another student at Valley View High School, resulting in three local schools being placed on lockdown.
And in other places of the world – such as China, where gun control laws are much stricter than the United States – mass stabbings appear to be a more common form of school attacks. On Dec. 14, 2012, just hours before gunman Adam Lanza opened fire in a Connecticut elementary school and killed 26 individuals, a 36-year-old man in the Chinese village of Chenpeng stabbed 22 elementary school children and one elderly woman.
"Obviously one gun is one too many and one knife is one too many," Trump says. "But it's just one additional threat that schools need to be prepared to manage."
One of Trump's greatest concerns, he says, is the fact that schools are particularly vulnerable early in the day. Many high schools open their doors long before most teachers and administrators have arrived, leaving classrooms, hallways, restrooms, cafeterias and other common areas unsupervised and open to attack.
"Adult supervision is often minimal at best," he says. That's not to say Wednesday's incident or any other act of school violence would have definitively been prevented had there been more adult presence, but it does lower the chances of an attack occurring or getting out of hand, he says.
While many school staff and community members may be inclined to suggest installing metal detectors in schools, Trump says that's not the best way to proceed.
"That sounds easy to do, but it's very difficult to implement and would require a 24/7 operation that most schools aren't going to be able to do," he says. "It's time and labor intensive and there's still not that 100 percent guarantee. The first and best line of defense is always a well-trained, highly-alert staff and student body."