The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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April 9, 2014

UPJ student stunned by stabbings at alma mater

Wrestling coach had planned to hold practices at school tonight

MURRYSVILLE — Brent Velasquez awoke to a telephone call from his mother this morning informing him that his alma mater, the high school that he grew up just blocks from, had been the scene of multiple stabbings but that his younger sister, a freshman at Franklin Regional, was fine.

Nearly five hours later, Velasquez, a freshman at Pitt-Johnstown, was still trying to comprehend it.

“I didn’t even get time to take it in,” he said in a telephone interview from the Richland Township campus. “I’m still in shock.”

The same held true for UPJ assistant wrestling coach Jody Strittmatter, whose Young Guns club was scheduled to hold practice at the school Wednesday night.

Details are still emerging on exactly what happened at the school in Murrysville, Westmoreland County, which is about 50 miles west of Johnstown. Velasquez said that he spoke briefly with his sister, Autumn, who did not see the suspect or any of the victims. Velasquez said he did not know the 16-year-old boy who police had in custody.

“He was a quiet kid that no one really talked to,” Velasquez said. “I didn’t know him, but from what I hear, he was real quiet.”

Nineteen students and a school police officer were injured, according to The Associated Press.

Velasquez said that he knew the injured officer, who was credited with helping to subdue the attacker.

“I talked to him every day at lunch,” Velasquez said. “He always came and watched our football games and stuff. He’s a great guy. Definitely a hero.”

Despite the presence of the officer, whose name has not been released, Velasquez said that he and his friends wondered if Franklin Regional was vulnerable to such an attack.

“They’re definitely unprepared,” he said. “They have security staff, but we have no metal detectors. The security staff, the most they have to deal with is a fight. Nothing like this.”

Velasquez hopes to return home to Murrysville this weekend, but he said he can’t imagine what it would be like for students to return to the school, which is expected to be closed for several days.

“I don’t know how it would be to go back,” he said. “I’m glad that I graduated. It would be tough to go back. We’re all close and a strong community, so we’ll get through it.”

Strittmatter said that Young Guns had about 90 wrestlers at its Franklin Regional practice on Monday, including more than 20 from the school district – about half of whom are high school students. When Strittmatter, a Cambria Heights graduate, found out about the stabbings he immediately thought of his young proteges.

“Whenever you hear the initial 20 kids (were) stabbed and they’re LifeFlighting kids, absolutely,” he said.

Strittmatter said that he received texts from several students telling him that none of the wrestlers was involved. He also got a text from the school informing him of the incident, which led the wrestling club to move its practice to Latrobe Area High School. A Franklin Regional administrator has to be in the building at all times during his club practices, Strittmatter said.

Like Velasquez, Strittmatter was still trying to comprehend how such a violent attack could happen at the school.

“It’s the last place you would think something would happen,” he said. “It’s not in a bad area or neighborhood. It’s a very good neighborhood. Murrysville – you don’t think anything would ever happen there.”

Eric Knopsnyder is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/eric_knopsnyder.

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