On his 16th birthday, a Saugus High School student walked into the campus quad Thursday, pulled a semiautomatic handgun from his backpack and shot five classmates, two fatally, then fired a bullet into his own head, leaving himself in grave condition.
The shooting, which occurred about 7:40 a.m. at the school at 21900 Centurian Way, sent other students scrambling for cover — some fleeing from the campus and others barricading themselves inside classrooms or offices.
“It’s a sad day in Saugus, it’s a sad day in Los Angeles County and the nation for another tragic shooting at a school,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva in a late-morning news conference.
Sheriff’s deputies responding to the school found six people in the campus quad suffering from gunshot wounds. One of them turned out to be the suspect, whom Villanueva said was in grave condition.
Sheriff’s Capt. Kent Wegener said detectives reviewed security video that shows the gunman reach into his backback, pull out a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun and open fire. The weapon was recovered at the scene.
“There are no other subjects who are outstanding as part of this incident,” Wegener said.
Of the five victims who were shot by the suspect, a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy died, both at Henry Mayo Hospital in Valencia.
Also wounded were a 14-year-old boy, a 14-year-old girl and a 15-year- old girl. One other person was taken to Olive View-UCLA Medical Center with a minor, non-gunshot injury, county Fire Chief Daryl Osby said.
The two injured girls were being treated at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills. A surgeon at the hospital told NBC4 one of the girls was shot in a shoulder and would not require surgery. Another girl at the hospital had a gunshot wound just above the belly button, with the bullet lodging near her hip. She was expected to undergo surgery later Thursday.
A spokesman for Henry Mayo Hospital said one person who was brought to the hospital in good condition — believed to be the 14-year-old boy — was treated and released early Thursday afternoon. Henry Mayo officials confirmed earlier that a total of four patients had been brought to the hospital — two have died and one now released. They have not confirmed that the remaining patient is the shooting suspect, but that person is a male listed in critical condition.
Sheriff’s deputies swarmed the campus in response to the shooting, and fanned out through the neighborhood, initially uncertain of the shooter was still at large. At one point, deputies positioned themselves around some bushes behind nearby Santa Clarita Elementary School in response to a report of a possible suspect hiding in the area. Residents in the neighborhood were told to remain inside with their doors and windows locked.
But as it turned out, the shooting suspect actually never left the campus.
After learning the suspect’s name by interviewing eyewitnesses and reviewing surveillance video, deputies went to his family’s home and conducted an initial search to ensure there were no additional victims there, but none were found. Villanueva later said the teen’s mother and girlfriend were being interviewed by detectives.
The student was not immediately identified. Neighbors told reporters the family was mostly quiet, noting that the teen’s father had died two years ago, possibly from a heart attack.
After the shooting, the high school and all other schools in the William S. Hart Unified High School District were placed on lockdown as a precaution, along with two neighboring elementary schools. The lockdown was lifted about 90 minutes afterward for all but Saugus High School and Arroyo Seco Junior High. By 10:30 a.m., sheriff’s investigators had thoroughly searched and evacuated Saugus High, and all remaining lockdowns were lifted.
A sheriff’s SWAT team was assigned to the investigation, as were agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Shaken parents, many in tears over the safety of their children, flocked to the area. Central Park, at 27150 Bouquet Canyon Road, was established as a reunification point for parents and students from the school. Parents could be seen milling around area streets waiting.
As students filtered out of the campus, some parents ran to the line of teens and hugged their children in tears.
One parent waiting to be reunited with her child told KNX Newsradio that she had been in touch with her 16-year-old daughter, who was in a choir class when a wounded student stumbled into the classroom. Her daughter and at least one other teen worked to staunch the bleeding, she said, but had no other information about the condition of the injured student.
Sheriff’s officials did not comment on unconfirmed reports of possible social media threats, but said any such postings would be investigated.
“We have checked for recent threats involving Saugus High School,” Wegener said. “We identified two, which were both investigated and have no nexus to this subject.”
One female student told reporters after the shooting she heard the first gunshot and thought it was a balloon popping.
“The second and the third one is when everyone knew … it was gunfire,” she said, adding that student began scrambling for cover.
“I felt like I was running for my life,” she said. “… At that moment I just prayed and prayed that everyone was OK and safe.”
The girl said student had not heard of potential threats targeting the campus.
“We never heard of any threats or any problems,” she said. “This just suddenly happened. Yesterday was a normal day, and now we’re here getting evacuated from our school.”
The White House released a statement saying President Donald Trump “is monitoring the ongoing reports of a school shooting in Santa Clarita, CA. The White House encourages all those in the area to follow the advice of local law enforcement and first responders.”
In response to the shooting, police patrols were stepped up at some other Southland school districts. Long Beach and La Verne police said they would be adding patrols at campuses. Los Angeles School Police said officers “remain vigilant throughout our campuses,” and Los Angeles Police Deparmtent officials said they would have “high visibility and extra patrol” at all city schools.
Hart school district officials said the district’s Activities Center at 20880 Centre Pointe Parkway will be opened from 5 to 7 p.m. “for students and community members to gather and receive support. We will have counseling support available at that time.”
A prayer vigil will be held at 6 p.m. at Grace Baptist Church, 22833 Copper Hill Drive, in Santa Clarita. At 7 p.m., another community prayer service will be held at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 24901 Orchard Village Road, Santa Clarita.
A community vigil is also being planned at 7 p.m. Sunday at Santa Clarita’s Central Park.
Villanueva said, “With a heavy heart, we’re going to move forward with the investigation, figure out what went wrong.”
“I hate to have Saugus be added to the names of Columbine, Parkland, Sandy Hook, but it’s a reality that affects us all throughout the nation, something we’re going to have to deal with,” he said. “… We’ve got to figure out what are we doing wrong and how can we stop this from happening in the future, so we’ll figure that out over time.”
Paul Delacourt, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, also decried what is now the latest in a string of U.S. school shootings.
“… We’re talking about something that no parents should ever have to go through, no high school students should ever have to worry about, yet we’re here to talk about it again.”
He noted that the FBI had sent crisis response resources, were on the scene in support of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and were collaborating on interviews with victims and witnesses.
“We will run all the leads to (the) ground, but at this point we have no indication of any motivation or ideology.”
“Once again, it’s sad that we have had to bring those resources to bear in another situation like this.”
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