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Stabbings in Pennsylvania School; Pings Detected in Search for Flight 370

Aired April 9, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: What could have driven a student to allegedly stab 20 people at his high school? Officials could have more answers for us in a news conference coming right up.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.


ZACHERY ANSLER, STUDENT: There was blood all over the floor.


TAPPER: The national lead. Police say he stalked through the halls, into classrooms, two knives in his hands. And before he could be stopped, at least 20 people, almost all of them students, were clutching stab wounds, many of them serious, a 16-year-old under arrest, while his alleged victims fight for their lives.

The world lead. Just when it looked like the most promising lead had been lost, the trail is hot again, fresh signals in the ocean which could be from the pingers on Flight 370's black boxes, the Australians sounding more sure than ever, saying this plane will be found. Is it time to dive down for a look? Not so fast. The searchers have an unmanned sub at the ready to go down there. Why are they in no hurry to launch it?

Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We will begin with our national lead. It appears a student turned whatever is troubling him into trouble for everyone. In about an hour, we're expecting officials to update us on the rampage inside a Pittsburgh area high school that was carried out not with a gun, as we have seen so often in the country, but with a knife, or, rather, a pair of knives, at least 20 victims stabbed, some so horribly that they are clinging to life at this hour, almost all of them fellow students.

Two people remain in critical condition at this hour, though others have been released. The suspect, a 16-year-old sophomore, is in police custody. Authorities and CNN are not identifying him at this time because he's a juvenile.

Whatever his motive might have been is a mystery right now. In a moment, we will hear from a fellow student who says she saw him wielding the knives. But, first, I want to go right to our own Pamela Brown, standing by live at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, Pennsylvania.

Pamela, this is what no parent wants to think about when we send our children off to school.


Certainly, this community still in shock. We have learned that there were 20 injuries from the stabbing spree this morning, 19 classmates, one adult, a school security guard. And we have learned from authorities it all happened before classes even started at around 7:00 a.m. And authorities say that's a big reason why there were so many injuries, because there were a lot of students at their lockers when the attacker, a 16-year-old male sophomore, came through, wielding two kitchen knives, according to authorities.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have multiple victims here. We need ambulances here as soon as possible.

BROWN (voice-over): Chaos and tragedy this morning at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. Police say a 16-year-old male sophomore ran into classrooms on a horrific stabbing spree.

THOMAS SEEFELD, MURRYSVILLE POLICE CHIEF: The juvenile went down the hallway, and was flashing two knives around and injured people.

BROWN: One adult and 19 of his classmates were hurt, most of them teens ranging from ages 14 to 17. Several are in critical condition, but are expected to survive.

ANSLER: I was walking over towards the exit and there was blood all over the floor. I thought maybe someone had a nosebleed or something. And someone yelled she got stabbed.

BROWN: Area hospitals are treating victims for stab wounds to the torso, abdomen, chest, and back, according to medical officials.

DR. CHRIS KAUFMANN, FORBES REGION HOSPITAL TRAUMA CENTER: I would say half of them are life-threatening.

BROWN: It could have been worse, if not for a few who are being hailed as heroes, like one quick-thinking student.

SEEFELD: The school alarm was pulled, the fire alarm. And what we teach and we try to talk about is, the first thing you want the students to do is to run.

BROWN: A school security guard, seen here, also helped subdue the alleged attacker after the assistant principal tackled the suspect.

The officer, known as Buzz, was stabbed, but is doing fine. Murrysville's police chief credits a fire alarm with helping to save lives. Parents scrambling to pick up their teen students, all of them understandably shocked.

ZACH SHEDD, STUDENT: I saw people holding each other's hands. I saw other people getting cut, just blood everywhere. It's very traumatizing.

BROWN: The suspect, seen being taken from the police station, has been treated for minor injuries, including cuts to his hands. Police are not naming him, since he's being treated as a juvenile at this point. So far, there is no indication of a motive.


BROWN: And, Jake, we have learned from authorities that it all lasted no more than five minutes. And there are three people with -- credited with subduing the attacker, the assistant principal, as well as a security guard and a school resource officer.

We know that the alleged attacker, this 16-year-old male sophomore, is being questioned at a police station. This is an ongoing investigation. The FBI's involved as well. Of course, they're interviewing students, the alleged attacker's family, trying to figure out why he would have done this. And there's a press conference coming up at 5:00, and we hope to, of course, learn more during that -- Jake.

TAPPER: Pamela Brown in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, right outside Pittsburgh, thank you so much.

One student at Franklin Regional said she saw the stabbing suspect attack -- quote -- "whoever was in his way."

Mia Meixner joins me now by phone.

Mia, we can't imagine how difficult this day must have been for you. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

First of all, how are you doing?

MIA MEIXNER, STUDENT: I'm doing fine. I think I'm getting along with it. I don't think it's really hit me yet, that this is all happening.

TAPPER: What made you first realize something was going so horribly wrong at school today?

MEIXNER: Well, at first, I was at my locker, and I heard commotion behind me, and I turned around, and there was two boys, one a freshman and one a sophomore that was the stabber on the ground.

And I thought it was just a fight at first. And I didn't think anything was really that wrong. And then I saw the stabber get up and run away, and then the freshman boy stood up and lifted up his shirt, and was gushing blood from his stomach.

And I think that's the point where I knew something -- something was really wrong, and it wasn't just a fight.

TAPPER: How badly injured were the stabbing victims you saw, other than the one you just described?

MEIXNER: I only saw two of the people actually stabbed. And at the time, I didn't realize that they were stabbed and I didn't know if it was that fatal or not.

But I don't think they're in that fatal of positions now.

TAPPER: And what did you do after you saw these two stabbing victims? Did you run? Did you just stand in the hallways shocked? What happened next?

MEIXNER: Well, I saw the girl by my locker, by the cafeteria holding her arm out while it was bleeding, and I think she was in shock because she didn't say anything. And I think I was the first person that noticed her, that she was actually bleeding.

So, I dropped my books and I ran over and I asked if she needed help. And I said, we can go to the nurse, and we can get you help. And I then heard like a stampede of kids from the hallway in the direction that the stabber ran.

And I heard them screaming, get out, run, he has a knife. And then a teacher came over to me and said, I will take care of her. You run and get out. So, then at that point, I ran out of the school.

TAPPER: That's great that you were there for that other girl, to take care of her until the teacher took over.

Now, we are not naming the young man, the 16-year-old sophomore. But without using his name, Mia, what can you tell us about him? Is this somebody who had any -- you knew of anything violent having to do with him?


From past experiences with him, he hasn't been violent at all. He's actually been a really nice kid, from all of the times I have talked to him. He was just more of a shy kid and kept to himself. I mean, I didn't see him with a particular group of friends. He probably did have some, but I never saw him around that much.

But he was -- he was nice whenever you would talk to him. I never thought anything bad would happen with him.

TAPPER: Did you ever know of him being bullied? Did you know about him having troubles at home?

MEIXNER: No, I didn't hear of anything. I wasn't very close with him. And I didn't talk to him very much. But I haven't heard that he's been bullied in the past or anything.

TAPPER: You have probably heard about school attacks in the news before. It must be stunning and horrifying that this happened actually at your school.

MEIXNER: Yes, it feels really surreal. Seeing the Sandy Hook shooting on TV and seeing all things like that, you just think like, wow, that's crazy, but you never really think it's going to happen at your school. And I'm really mind-blown by it. I just can't believe it actually happened today.

TAPPER: Well, we're all impressed by your strength in telling us the story and your wherewithal in helping out that other girl.

Tell us about two of the individuals being heralded as heroes of this event, security guard Buzz and the assistant principal, both of whom who helped subdue this young man. Tell us about them.

MEIXNER: From what I hear -- I didn't actually see it happen, but from what I hear, they jumped on him and held him down and, like, eventually handcuffed him and stopped him.

But that's all I really heard, because I was out of the building at the time that that was happening.

TAPPER: Have you done drills at your school to prepare for any emergency like this?

MEIXNER: Not specifically this emergency.

I mean, we have been told, and everyone knew that we should get out of the building if something like this happens. And we also have -- well, we have been in this -- in a situation where, if we're in a classroom during the day and someone with a weapon or something is in the high school, that we should -- we go into what is called code red and we all stay in our classrooms and lock the doors.

But we have never really been prepared for a situation that would happen, if it happened in the middle of the halls or during class change or something like this before school even started.

TAPPER: Mia, have you talked to your parents? Do you know what you're going to be doing in terms of tonight, in terms of tomorrow, in terms of whether the community's going have any sort of vigil, in terms of whether -- when school's going to come back in session?

MEIXNER: We're not sure when school's going to come back. They did say it would be a couple of days. And our community's getting together at a couple local churches tonight to pray for the victims.

And everyone's getting together and me and my friends are going to one of our local churches to pray. I think it really brought our community together.

TAPPER: Mia Meixner, thank you so much. God bless you, and be strong.

MEIXNER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up: a teenager now called a hero after pulling the fire alarm to warn his fellow students and alert the authorities after the stabbings earlier today -- what he's saying about his actions coming up next. Plus, a huge new lead in the search for Flight 370. One investigator is saying he's now optimistic the plane will be found in the not-too- distant future, after new signals were picked up overnight from deep in the Indian Ocean -- coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

More now on this breaking national lead, less than an hour now until officials update us on the mass stabbing that left at least 20 people wounded inside a Pittsburgh area high school.

We're also learning more about some amazing acts of heroism displayed by students and teachers, the security guard, the assistant principal, acts that may have saved lives.

Sue McFarland, editor of "The Tribune-Review," joins me now by the phone.

Sue, what are you expecting to hear at this press conference coming up within the hour?

SUE MCFARLAND, EDITOR, "THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW": Well, at this point, I think, as you know, the suspect has not been identified. We have not confirmed his name, although there has been a lot of speculation on social media about his identity.

So we're hoping to get a little -- a little bit more information about him and a little bit of insight into why all of this happened today.

TAPPER: And tell us a little bit about this community.

MCFARLAND: It's a quiet community. It's a community about 20,000 people. It's about 15 miles from Pittsburgh, mostly residential.

This type of thing generally doesn't happen there, obviously, fairly quiet mix of rural community and residential community.

TAPPER: All right.

MCFARLAND: So, it was somewhat of a shock to people in this area that this happened, but I guess it was a reminder to all of us that this type of thing can happen and does happen just about anywhere.

TAPPER: Sue McFarland, thank you so much. We appreciate your time.


TAPPER: This all happened so quickly, many victims didn't even realize they had been stabbed until they saw their own blood. But we're told someone pulled a fire alarm and began a mass exodus, and likely saved lives in the process.

I want to welcome Pastor Dan Hertzler of Cornerstones Ministries. He's one of those who are offering counseling to the student body. Pastor, you know the person who pulled the alarm, a student, but we're not naming now. Tell us about who he is, what he did, and how he's doing.

DAN HERTZLER, PASTOR, CORNERSTONES MINISTRIES: Yes. I was able to speak to him through text message while in the ambulance, and he was in good spirits. And despite everything that happened, he seemed to be doing well.

TAPPER: He was stabbed as well?


I believe that he was stabbed in the arm, and there's a picture, I believe, that's going around that shows him doing quite well right now, though.

TAPPER: And did he tell you that he pulled the alarm or had you heard that separately?

HERTZLER: I have heard that separately. I have not spoke to him about that. I was, at that time, more worried how he was doing and how the family was.

As you can imagine, they're dealing with a lot now, and trying to respect their privacy. And so I'm sure a lot more will come out, but I had not heard that from him.

TAPPER: How is his family doing? You said you text messages -- text- messaged with him. How are his parents doing?

HERTZLER: They're very grateful. Obviously, you can imagine, when you hear that news, a lot of thoughts go through their mind. But they're extremely grateful for God's protection, and actually their concerns are for the other students that are doing a lot more serious -- or not as good right now.

TAPPER: He sounds like a real hero. Authorities are giving them credit for alerting them that something was going on at the school.

HERTZLER: Yes, well, I'm not surprised. He's a good kid that comes from a great family.

I have seen him in many different ways. And none of us really know what we would do in those situations, but if there's someone would do it, I would imagine he would.

TAPPER: You're also counseling students in the aftermath of this horrible incident. Undoubtedly, some are shaken up, some are not going to want to come back to school. How many students have you spoken to? What are you telling them? And what are they telling you?

HERTZLER: Well, I was able to be in the school, probably an hour after the event happened, and just got a chance to see some of the students, to see who interacted with the incident and who had friends, and many of them are fearful right now. They're afraid life won't be the same. And to some of them, it won't be, but just trying to encourage them to lean on their families, to trust the community, and in the midst of this evilness, that God is still good, even though man makes a choice of evil.

TAPPER: You're leading a prayer vigil tonight. We have heard that there's going to be a couple of community events at churches this evening.

How are you going to put the feelings of this community right now into words? This -- I don't want to obviously put pressure on you, but this is a very important sermon for you.

HERTZLER: Well, the biggest thing right now is really just to be around and be present.

Many of these students just need to feel the love and safety of their family and friends, to be able to grieve with their community, but ultimately for them to recognize that we have a perspective that's limited. And there is another perspective that God has.

And, in that perspective, we see that God is good, even though in these moments that man chooses evil, we can trust in his goodness. And, so, tonight, at Cornerstone Ministries, at the warehouse, we will be spending some time just really praying with students. And come alongside. We will have counselors available and pastors available and just really -- just be in there to try to answer the questions.

And in these times, it's OK to say, I don't know. And it's OK just to be there, even when we don't have all the answers.

TAPPER: And, Pastor Dan, we're not mentioning the name of the alleged suspect in this, but I was wondering if you knew anything about him, if you had heard anything about him from the other students. We had a young lady on just a few minutes ago who said that he seemed like a nice kid, kind of a loner, but never had heard anything negative about him, didn't seem to be bullied, didn't -- she had never heard that he had any troubles at home.

What do you know? What have you heard?

HERTZLER: Yes, there's a lot of speculation, a lot of different rumors out there with social media, students talking.

But I had heard the same things, that he would be the kid that you wouldn't expect.

TAPPER: Pastor Dan Hertzler, thank you so much. And good luck tending and ministering to the citizens of that town, especially the children.

HERTZLER: Thank you very much, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up next: using every shred of data to narrow down the search area, how investigators are now analyzing information as they never have before to pinpoint the location of missing Flight 370. Plus, the massive search operation also has an unprecedented price tag. Who is footing the bill?

Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The world lead now is a major new lead in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Two new pinger signals consistent with the plane's black boxes, they have been picked up by the Ocean Shield ship. That's the Australian ship towing a U.S. Naval pinger locator.

It's the same ship that picked up two signals on Saturday. So, you have those two signals and the two ones from overnight, all four of them within a 17-mile area. In about two weeks, we have gone from an overall search area the size of Alaska, the biggest state in the country, to one the size of South Carolina, the 40th biggest state.

That counts as progress in this tragic and maddening story. But search crews say, these new signals were weaker than the ones recorded on Saturday, the day the batteries on those beacons were supposed to run out. It's now day 34 of the search. And time is clearly not an ally.

Our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, has the latest developments -- Rene.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, you know, the manufacturer of the pingers, they believe this is it. The sound from the black boxes, Australian authorities have gone as far as they can without actually saying they found it, 34 days since Flight 370 went missing, and crews now finally believe they are searching the right area.


MARSH (voice-over): After 67 hours of silence came five minutes of hope.

ANGUS HOUSTON, CHIEF SEARCH COORDINATOR: Ocean Shield has been able to reacquire the signals on two more occasions.

MARSH: The elusive pings they have been desperately trying to recapture detected again Tuesday, once for about five minutes and then again for seven. Ocean Shield has now picked up a total of four pings in five days, all near the arc where the plane made its last satellite connection.

HOUSTON: I'm now optimistic that we will -- we will find the aircraft, or what is left of the aircraft, in the not-too-distant future.

MARSH: The detections boosted optimism, but crews are still listening for even more to narrow the search area, and they're on borrowed time. HOUSTON: Given the guaranteed shelf life of the pinger batteries is 30 days, and it's now 33 days since the aircraft went missing.

MARSH: Investigators say they will only launch the underwater vehicle Bluefin after they are certain the batteries are dead. Equipped with side-scan sonar, the Bluefin can launch search missions that last nearly a day. But it's slow. It would take six times longer to cover the same area as the towed pinger locator.

Once found, it could take months to recover the boxes. The water in this area can be miles deep. Recreational scuba divers only go down about 130 feet. The Empire State Building submerged would only go down 1,000 feet. Light from the surface stops at 3,000 feet, the Grand Canyon, over 5,000 feet deep, and that still wouldn't even come close to reaching the ocean floor. The Titanic was discovered more than 12,000 feet down, but the black boxes are believed to be even further than that, more than 14,000 feet underwater.


MARSH: The most recent pings appear to be weakening. The manufacturer of the pingers say it's -- based on testing, should last about 35 days. Keep in mind, we are on day 34.

As far as the pings the Chinese detected, the HMS Echo continues to listen in that area. But the more promising leads are those four pings the Ocean Shield detected. And asked when that underwater drone would be deployed, Angus Houston said he didn't think it would be very long from this point.

So, you get the sense things are moving forward.

TAPPER: What passes for hope in this horrible story, Rene. Thank you so much.

When we come back, a dramatic new focus on this search area. We will show you just how much closer investigators could be to the source of these pings -- coming up next.