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, the 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 … 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 showed the gunman reach into his backback, pull out a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun and open fire.
Of the five victims who were shot, a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy died.
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 a hospital with a minor, non-gunshot injury, county Fire Chief Daryl Osby said.
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, 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 at the hospital with him.
The student was not immediately identified. Neighbors told reporters the family was mostly quiet, and there were reports that the teen’s father had died about a year ago.
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.
Another parent told the station the suspect had posted what can now be viewed as an ominous message on his Instagram account on Wednesday night. The message says simply, “Saugus have fun at school tomorrow.”
Sheriff’s officials did not comment on reports of possible social media threats, but said any such postings would be investigated. Wegener said there were no known active threats targeting the school on Thursday.
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.”