It’s a cool early morning in Murrysville Pennsylvania. The grass is wet, though there wasno rain last night. The orange street lights cast an eerie glow over the busy parking lot. There’s a solemn presence in the air. Hesitancy and heaviness cause the silence of the students as they exit their cars and wander quietly into the warm glow of the red and white brick building.
Pulling my navy blue backpack out of the backseat of my parents red Cadillac SUV, I give my mom a light kiss on the cheek and slip out of the car, my feet hitting the black pavement with a light thump.
“It’ll be okay,” She says as I go to slam the car door. “Keep your head up.” I only give her a small smile to giver some comfort, and step back to watch her drive off to work, down the steep hill to route 22. As I join the hoard of students, I note the number of police cars parked out front.
With a shake of my head I make my way up the red steps. It’s been three weeks since I’ve stepped inside. Three weeks, since the attack on my school. I take a deep breath and enter my high school for the first time since April eighth.
My eyes immediately land on a Golden Retriever, white in the face with sunken eyes. She sits in the middle of a semi circle of girls. Her name I will later find out, is Bailey, and she’s twelve years old. There are dogs everywhere. A Rottweiler wears a pink tutu.
Another dog sits onit’s owner’s lap. He’s tiny and has a beard. All of these animals are here to help heal, but they actually serve as a distraction. For weeks they will walk the halls, interrupt classes, and try their best to make students smile.
This is my first day back in almost a month, after a student decided to walk through the science wing of my high school and stab twenty one of my fellow classmates. It’s taken weeks to clean up all of the blood. Some of it was left stuck in a large crack in the floor, between the band room and the hallway. Franklin decided to place a blue slab over the crack. While it hides the blood, it will forever be a reminder as I walk through that hall.
My locker’s on the second floor, above the science wing. Every few seconds I glance over my shoulder as I’d done all semester, to watch for some kind of threat. I’d had this growing suspition that something would happen. Throughout the country, students were going into class- rooms and gunning down students. Why I had a feeling it would happen at Franklin I have no clue. Murrysville’s quiet. Nothing happens here. But there’d been a gut feeling since the first day, that compelled me to look over my shoulder.
Guns make noise, but knives are silent. It isn’t until you’ve already been hit that you realize you’ve been hurt.
In the lunchroom the blue and gold “FR Strong” banner I’d signed a week ago at a sup- port rally hangs on back wall. At lunch with my best friend, I can’t help but stare at the large do- nated reminder. Rita’s Ice is given out as a gift from the Italian Ice company as we pile out of the cafeteria. As we file out of the double doors into the hallway where tragedy struck, I pick out my favorite flavor of ice.
I choose mango.
My last class for the day is Chemistry. I stare at the bleached tables. The room had to be sanitized as hurt students were dragged inside to wait for paramedics. I occasionally glance at my friend’s empty seat beside my own. He’s in the hospital fighting for his life. He ends up losing a kidney and part of his liver. But he lives.Thank God no one died.
Part of me regrets skipping school that day. Pretending to be sick, I convinced my mom to keep me home from school. I had the day planned. TV. However a call from my neighbor on the Westmorland Transit bus heading downtown changed that plan.“Thank God you’re home Jenna.” I heard. It was followed by, “Ambulances,” “Police cars,” “barricades,” and my favorite, “turn on the news.”For hours I could do nothing but stare at the television as news reporters gave premature injury counts. Stuck glued in my chair at the kitchen island, I’d listen as they struggled to get new information. Frantically I called everyone I could. In the distance, I could see the Life-Flight helicopters coming and going, as well at WTAE’s own news chopper as they circled my school. In the coming weeks, I’d grow used to the sound of helicopters in my once quiet neighborhood.It’s the worst feeling in the world, knowing your home’s been attacked, and you can do nothing to stop it.
Franklin Regional’s my second home. While I hate waking up at the crack of dawn, the large building is familiar to me and safe.
It used to be safe.
Clear backpacks are handed out after the incident. We aren’t allowed to carry solid bags anymore. Neighboring businesses send us free stuff. It’s meant to show sympathy, but it’s just another uncomfortable reminder. For fire drills, our principal doesn’t allow the fire department to set off the alarm. He gives us three warnings then asks us to head outside to avoid triggering stu- dents who’ve developed PTSD.
Alex Hribal’s face is plastered over my Facebook newsfeed for years. He tries to plead insanity. He gets tried as an adult. It isn’t until 2018 that it will end. He’ll be sentenced to sixty years in prison for twenty one counts of attempted homicide. Over time wounds will heal, emo- tional and physical, but pain from that day will never be completely gone.