Detectives continue search for answers; shooter dies in hospital

Balloons and flowers stand in front of Saugus High School which was still closed for investigation on Friday, November 15, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Detectives investigating the shooting at Saugus High School, searching for something to explain  the events that left three dead and three wounded, are struggling to find a motive and answer questions about the gun.

Nathaniel Tennosuke Berhow, who shot himself in the head on his 16th birthday, and who remained in “grave” condition at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital since he was brought there, died Friday afternoon with his mother at his bedside, according to a statement from Sheriff’s Department officials.

Investigators, meanwhile, are still building a profile of the shooter now dead.

At a news conference Friday morning on the doorstep of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, Capt. Kent Wegener said detectives have interviewed at least 40 people within 24 hours of the shooting.

“No motive or rationale has yet been established for the subject’s assault,” he said. 

No motive

“Suffice it to say, we did not find any manifesto, any diary that spelled it out, any suicide note, or any writings which would clearly identify his motive behind this assault,” Wegener said.

Despite the 40 interviews already done, Wegener revealed his team is still looking for that one interview that will help put the shooting into some perspective.

“If there are people out there, students … administrators, people who had info about this subject or the incident, please call (the) Sheriff’s (Department) so that we can arrange an interview,” he said.

In the process of building an accurate portrait of the young man, detectives delving into his past, searching his family home, are learning how guns played a prominent role in his life growing up.

Nathaniel’s father, Mark Vincent Berhow, who died of a heart attack in December 2017, was an avid hunter who owned at least a half-dozen firearms. 

Officials with the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner opened his case file Friday, which revealed “a history of chronic alcoholism.”

Gun influence

Photos of the elder Berhow surfaced Friday on the TV show “TMZ,” showing him holding the bright red heart of an animal in one photo and, in another, holding a dead white goose by its neck.

A third photo shows Berhow with a woman on his left and lifting a boy off the ground with his other arm. 

Investigators have learned that Nathaniel Berhow was a quiet boy, a Boy Scout, on the track team, who, when he hiked with his mother, sporting a hoodie, walked quietly ahead of her.

But, who was he? And, where did he get the gun?

Those are among the questions investigators are trying desperately to answer, Wegener said.

“The firearm used in this assault is at the crime lab,” Wegener said at the news conference, referring to the .45 caliber handgun Berhow used to shoot five students and himself.

Homicide detectives called in agents with the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearm to help them identify the gun’s origin.

Six firearms 

“ATF traced six firearms, which all have been accounted for,” said ATF Special Agent Carlos Carillo said at the news conference, regarding firearms taken from the Berhow home.

“As we speak, the ATF is at the crime lab trying to identify the origins of this gun,” he said, referring to the weapon used in Thursday’s shooting.

Law enforcement officers revealed that in addition to finding nothing written by the shooter, they found no one who spoke to him before it happened.

The shooter’s mother, Mami, dropped him off at school Thursday morning, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said.

“It doesn’t appear he had any interaction with anyone,” he said. “He was standing by himself and, at one point, decided to walk to the center of the quad area, dropped the backpack, withdrew the firearm and just started firing.”

“It still remains a mystery,” Villanueva said.

Investigators, meanwhile, are learning that the shooter was no stranger to handling guns.

Familiar with guns

“He seemed very familiar with firing the weapon,” Villanueva said. “In 16 seconds, he cleared a malfunction and was able to shoot five people and himself. So he seemed very familiar with firing the weapon.”

Villanueva pointed out that Berhow “hit just about everyone with one round.”

Wegener began by correcting a developing profile of the shooter that began emerging Thursday, after information was made public about a threat-like Instagram message posted the night before the shooting. 

“I referred yesterday at a press conference to an Instagram account that we were attempting to verify whether it did or did not belong to the subject in the shooting. After working with Facebook overnight, we have determined that the account was not linked to the subject, he said.

“The account was subsequently deactivated by Facebook for violation of its Facebook rules,” Wegener said. “I can’t get into this point of where it originated.  Suffice it to say, that it was out of the country.”

Detectives continue to work with Facebook to identify any further accounts that may have belonged to the suspect.
[email protected] 661-287-5527  On Twitter @jamesarthurholt

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