READING, Pa. – Students at a junior/senior high school jumped on a 13-year-old classmate who had armed himself with a propane torch and slashed a girl with a knife Wednesday morning, momentarily disabling him before he was subdued by school officials.
Two other students also suffered minor stab wounds.
The suspect at Antietam Middle-Senior High School, about 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia, had brought numerous other knives and explosive materials to school, police said.
He also left a note for his mother saying "Mom, I'm so sorry. I love you. Goodbye."
The eighth-grader was taken into custody after school officials disarmed him.
"As a parent, as an officer, I would be very proud of what those students did. They had to make a hasty decision whether they wanted to become involved. Very admirable," Berks Regional Police Officer Raymond Serafin said.
Tim Hauck, 14, who witnessed the attack, said the student ran into the classroom and began lunging with a steak knife at the first students he saw. He wore a dark trench coat and earphones and began flipping desks, throwing books and lighting firecrackers, said Hauck, an eighth-grader.
Hauck said he asked "Why do you want to hurt me? I'm your friend," and the suspect replied "I'm not going to hurt you. I'm not going to kill you." Hauck said he then ran out of the classroom and yelled for help.
Principal James Snyder and a teacher confronted the student in a hallway after the initial assault, and talked to him for about 15 minutes, trying to calm him and persuade him to go to the cafeteria or Snyder's office.
"He was mad at a lot of people and a lot of things, and the school," Snyder said.
When it appeared the boy was unwilling to surrender, another teacher, English instructor David Kase, walked up behind the boy and swatted his arm, knocking the propane torch from his hand, Snyder said.
"We pushed him to the wall and kept him to a confined area so he wasn't going anywhere," Snyder said. "He wasn't saying anything to us."
Police said the student had brought two bags to school. One contained a small can of gasoline; a water bottle filled with torch fluid; firecrackers; knives; and face masks to keep out fumes. The other bag contained school supplies and more knives, Serafin said.
Shortly after 8 a.m., the student walked into a first-period English class and grabbed the 16-year-old girl, throwing her to the ground and slashing at her, police said.
"The students who were in that classroom came to her aid immediately and disarmed him," Serafin said.
Serafin said two knives were used in the attack, but he didn't know what kind. He said it was also unclear how many students jumped on the attacker or how the boy was able to get away and go into the hallway.
Officials also puzzled over the student's motive, saying he was not a known troublemaker or particularly withdrawn or brooding.
"This was not a student who was a regular or frequent flyer to my office for discipline at all," Snyder said. "I would classify him as a regular student, nothing that strikes me out of the ordinary. I've replayed this in my mind ... and there is nothing that triggers me to say I saw this coming."
Acquaintances of the suspect described him as a small boy who had few friends and often came to school in the trench coat.
Seventh-grader Mckenzie Okonski, 13, who knows the suspect and saw him minutes before the attack, said he did not get along very well with others, often making fun of people who in turn ridiculed him.
"He acted tough but he was not tough at all," she said.
Students who were close by when the assault took place described a chaotic scene.
Ninth-grader Jim Greager, 14, said he was in a hallway when he saw Hauck running down the hall screaming, "Help! Help! Help!"
"You could hear the people screaming and yelling," said Okonski, whose teacher quickly locked the door. "We heard somebody running down the hallway, screaming and saying that (the suspect) has a knife. It was just traumatizing, I was so scared."
The school was evacuated shortly after the attack. Brian MacLuskie, 15, a ninth-grader, said students initially thought it was a drill, then saw police cars out front and knew something was wrong.
"People were crying; they were scared. Everyone was calling parents on cell phones. Rumors started flying," MacLuskie said.
The suspect, whose name was widely circulated by students but not confirmed by police, is expected to be charged as a juvenile. The charges have yet to be determined.
Berks County District Attorney John Adams said the boy will be kept at the county juvenile detention center pending the outcome of his case.
Yellow police tape surrounded the suspect's house, a brick split-level on a busy street. Authorities wrapped up their search Wednesday night.
The 16-year-old girl who was the attacker's initial target was taken to Reading Hospital with cuts to both hands, hospital spokesman William J. Rudolph Jr. said.
Doctors also treated a 15-year-old girl with a small wound to her upper back and a 14-year-old boy with a small wound to his upper right arm, he said. All three have been released, Rudolph said.
The school in Lower Alsace Township enrolls 540 students in grades seven through 12. It will reopen Thursday with counselors and law enforcement on hand to talk to students and parents.