Alum struck by tragedy in her hometown

On Wednesday morning, a 16-year-old sophomore at Franklin Regional Senior High in Murrysville, a town 15 miles east of Pittsburgh, stabbed more than 20 people with two kitchen knives he brought from home.

Half a dozen of the victims suffered serious wounds, and one still is on a ventilator after two surgeries, a knife having missed his aorta by millimeters.

The incident erupted into the nationwide media fireball that we are now accustomed to when school violence happens and, like most people, I followed the coverage from everywhere: from my kitchen and via my smartphone and on the radio.

When something like this happens, it reminds us in the most jarring way that violence and tragedy exist. It makes us feel a shaky kind of relief that it happened somewhere else, but it does make our hearts ache, albeit from a distance – for people we don’t know, in a town we’ve never heard of, for reasons we’ll never understand.

Here’s the thing, though: every town is one you’ve never heard of until it’s your town.

Murrysville is my town. Franklin Regional was my school.

For the last four days I’ve watched every major news network run photos of the high school from which I graduated, and I’ve found myself wondering if Mr. Landsberg still teaches AP European History and if the school newspaper still works out of a cleaned-out storage closet on the second floor.

I’ve watched aerial footage of the school campus loop over and over again, and I see the student lot where I parked my Pontiac Sunbird as a senior and the football stadium where commencement was held.

I’ve heard the phrase “Murrysville, a town near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania” used on NPR’s top-of-the-hour news briefs to describe the place where I spent my life until moving away for good in my early 20s. The suspect in the attack lives in a development less than three minutes from the house in which I grew up.

It’s been, by far, the most surreal thing I’ve ever experienced, because I’ve seen all of it before – the aerial shots, the nationwide coverage, the hordes of reporters descending on a little-known town – but it’s never been familiar.

I watched as events unfolded in other cities and other states and, even though my heart broke for them, there was the sense of detachment that comes from being far away from it, from not knowing how it feels.

But now it’s different. Now I know how it feels.

Mercifully, there have been no fatalities from this incident. But I have now learned – and call it a cliche if you will – that this kind of violence can happen anywhere. And, there truly is no way to prepare yourself for it hitting close to home.

But because it can happen anywhere, and because schools have become breeding grounds for such insecurity and self-doubt to minds that are still, in some ways, so fragile, I will offer my only piece of advice:

Teach your children that the presence of good deeds is better than the absence of bad ones.

That’s all I’ve got. Be well.