GREENSBURG, Pennsylvania — A teen who stabbed 20 classmates and a security guard at his high school "believed he was being controlled from hell" by the two boys who perpetrated the Columbine High School massacre, a psychiatrist testified Tuesday.
Dr. Bruce Wright, an expert hired by prosecutors, was the key witness in a hearing to determine whether Alex Hribal, now 18, should be tried as an adult or in juvenile court.
Defense attorney Patrick Thomassey acknowledges Hribal — then 16 — brought two kitchen knives from home and slashed his way through the hallways of Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville on April 9, 2014. Nobody died, but four of the students were critically wounded and required weeks of hospital care; one lost a kidney.
Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck has charged Hribal as an adult with 21 counts each of attempted homicide and aggravated assault, plus a school weapons charge. He would face decades in prison if convicted.
But if Thomassey can get the case moved to juvenile court, Hribal would face incarceration or supervision only until he's 21. In order to do that, the defense must convince Judge Christopher Feliciani that Hribal can be successfully treated for his mental illnesses by then.
The judge said he'll rule after Thomassey and Peck file written arguments, which means Hribal's fate won't be decided until at least February.
Tuesday's hearing continued one begun in June, when several victims testified. Several school employees testified Tuesday, but the key witness was Wright.
Hribal has told Wright "he was inspired by and worshipped" Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who gunned down 13 students and wounded 24 others at Columbine in April 1999.
Hribal felt it was "his destiny to kill enough people that he would be worshipped as they were," Wright testified.
Wright said he wasn't sure what to make of such statements because, to various defense experts and counselors, Hribal expressed varying degrees of influence by the Columbine killers.
"He told me he felt like he was selected by Harris and Klebold to carry out this act," Wright said, while at other times Hribal said "he believed he was being controlled from hell" by the Columbine killers.
Thomassey didn't call witnesses, but submitted newer reports from three experts detailing Hribal's mental health progress.
"I don't think I'm the only one who has concerns whether he'll be successfully treated by the time he's 21," Wright testified, noting uncertainty expressed by the defense experts, too.
By law, the judge must also consider the impact on the victims and society if Hribal's case is moved to juvenile court.
To that end, Peck called the vice principal who pried the knives from Hribal's fingers while he was held down by the wounded security guard and another administrator. Joan Mellon said she saw Hribal marching down the hall, robotically thrusting the knives at students, before turning around and flailing the knives like he was swimming the backstroke.
The other school witnesses have flashbacks of varying degrees and, sometimes, guilt.
James Passarelli locked his classroom to safeguard three wounded students, as well as some Hribal hadn't injured. Passarelli tended to one critically wounded teen on the floor, sure the boy was dying as a puddle of blood expanded beneath his body and the boy's skin turned so white his lips were no longer red.
Passarelli said his "sense of helplessness" was overwhelming. He burst into tears testifying about another boy "who had part of his liver hanging out of him, and there was a 15-year-old girl who had to take care of him because I was in the room trying to keep (the other boy) alive."