By Emily Alvarenga, Jim Holt, Caleb Lunetta, Tammy Murga
Saugus High School was the scene of America’s latest school shooting Thursday, when two students were killed, and four other students, including the shooter, were wounded.
Two Saugus students, a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy, died from gunshot wounds inflicted at the school as classes were just beginning, Capt. Kent Wegener, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s Homicide Bureau, said during a news conference.
In all, five students were shot — two girls, aged 16 and 15, and three boys, two of them 14 and one 15. The shooter, who shot himself in the head, was 16. A seventh victim suffered an injury described only as not a gunshot wound.
At a news conference held at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital where three of the victims and the shooter were taken, it was revealed that two students succumbed to their injuries, a third was reported in stable condition and released from the hospital and the fourth remained at the hospital in critical condition.
The two other shooting victims were reportedly doing well at Providence Holy Cross.
“Their conditions were good and fair earlier,” Holy Cross spokeswoman Pat Aidem said late Thursday afternoon.
“They’re going to be staying the night because they were both hit by gunfire,” she said. “They’re in good spirits.”
Asked if they’ve been watching the news, Aidem said: “They have TVs in their rooms.”
Parents for each of the two survivors at Holy Cross were at the hospital, she said.
“We had grandparents arrive for one of them,” she added.
Law enforcement officials confirmed the identity of the suspect as Nathaniel Berhow, who turned 16 years old Thursday.
Although sheriff’s officials and hospital staff would not confirm the shooter by name, they acknowledged the fourth student brought to the hospital, and who remained there in what Sheriff Alex Villanueva called “grave” condition, was, in fact, the suspect.
The suspect was still in critical condition as of Thursday evening with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
The shooting began shortly after 7:30 a.m., when the suspect entered an open area called the quad, between school buildings, pulled a gun from his backpack and began shooting students.
The shooting happened outside of the choir room where the choir teacher, Kaytie Holt — daughter of Signal staff writer Jim Holt — and her students heard gunshots.
“Three to five students ran into my room. They told me they heard gunshots. I immediately locked my door and I got all the students in my room into my office.”
“There was about 40 of us in there. Once we were in my office with all the lights off, (one of the students) who ran into my room, not a choir student, told me she believed she had been shot.”
“I went to get the gunshot-wound kit from my room. When I returned, I inspected the wounds. She had two, one on her side and one on her left shoulder.”
“We had the gunshot-wound kit, so I dressed her wounds and we waited there, I don’t know how long. Not too long,” she said.
“She laid down and eventually the police came and got us out of the office. Then, paramedics came and took the girl,” she said. “When she left my room, she was responsive. She was able to tell them her name, her birthday, everything like that.”
Saugus students were bused to Central Park near the school where they systematically reunited in groups of 20 at a time with their respective parents.
Students were standing in line on the back soccer fields of Central Park waiting to be interviewed and checked out before being released to their parents.
“They’re just re-checking the rooms,” said board member Joe Messina, who was outside Saugus High. “They’re making sure we don’t have any kids who are still hiding, thinking there’s something going on. (The deputies) are doing a great job.”
Dozens of sheriff’s deputies were on the scene at Central Park, interviewing students as they were unloaded from buses.
Many of the reunited students burst into tears at the sight of their parents. Most parents ran with open arms at the sight of their child, hugging them for long periods.
Joe Osbron was at the park waiting for his son, Joshua.
“My brother-in-law was driving by the school to work this morning at 7:30 and he said he heard gunshots, so he tried calling me five times,” he said.
“He gave me that heads up and from there, being home, watching the news, texting my son who was in a classroom. He was north of where it happened. They were locked down in class. And, he was there for about an hour before they (police) got to his classroom.”
Osbron was one of many parents relieved to learn their children were OK but saddened to hear about the victims.
As he waited for his son to be among the ones escorted by deputies to waiting parents, other students quickly found their parents eagerly searching for them.
“I just got to school and I usually hang out at the athletic director’s office and we were just talking and hanging out there and that’s when it happened,” said Alan Barbosa.
“We heard three shots outside the window. We didn’t know what it was. We looked through the window, we see kids running by. We just knew and said, ‘Let’s lock the door, turn out the lights and just hide.’
“After a while, the police came and got us and brought us to the church,” he said, referring to Grace Baptist Church.
Student Tyler Kebler, reunited with his family, had a similar experience.
“I was on campus, after my math class,” he said. “All I know is two kids walked in and said, ‘Shots were fired in the quad area,’ and so our teacher immediately locked the door and turned off the lights.”
“A bunch of kids started barricading the door,” Kebler said. “Then we sat there until police came and got us out of our classroom, then escorted us to the gym.”
Saugus High student Hannah Schooping-Gutierrez said she heard three shots during first period, while she was at the library.
Her first instinct was to run, leave all of her belongings and get off campus, she said. She and senior Lauren Farmer went off-campus and found a student who lives across the street, and was taking in students who were fleeing the campus for safety.
They said they hid until they thought it was safe to come out.
Wegener said a search warrant was being sought for the suspect’s residence in Saugus, and students who witnessed the shooting were being interviewed at Grace Baptist Church.
“The suspect was later identified as one of the victims who was found in the quad. He is identified as a 16-year-old male whose birthday is today,” Wegener said. “The weapon that he used was recovered at the scene. It’s a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, which had no more rounds in it.”
“Detectives have reviewed the video at the scene, which clearly shows the subject in the quad withdraw a handgun from his backpack, shoot and wound five people, and then shoot himself in the head,” Wegener said. “There are no other subjects who are outstanding as part of this incident.”
FBI officials confirmed at 11:40 a.m. Thursday during a live news conference that there were no other threats suspected at any other schools in connection with this incident.
Later in the day, Wegener and FBI officials were asked by reporters at the hospital about a text sent out a day before the shooting as a perceived threat.
Online threat examined
“I also want to acknowledge, and I believe most of you have reported on this, a posting on the bio of what we believe to be the suspect’s Instagram account and I quote, it says… ‘Saugus have fun at school tomorrow.’
“I can confirm that that was posted on his (subject’s) Instagram account and I can also confirm that it has been changed since this incident which means someone else has access to his account, be it a hacker or a friendly who has his password.”
“That was posted at one point. We are aware of it so we are researching the source — when it was placed and when it was taken down,” he said.
“We have not yet established a motive,” Wegener said. “We have found no nexus between him and the victims, other than they were all students.”
A team of politicians — state, federal, county and local — told of support services set up for grief and trauma counselling at various places in the SCV.
During the morning news conference after the shooting, county Supervisor Kathryn Barger praised sheriff’s officials for arriving on the scene within two minutes of the report of the shooting.
At least half a dozen ambulances and numerous Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station vehicles descended on the school shortly after 7:35 a.m.
By 10:30 a.m., hundreds of students gathered at Central Park in Saugus, while dozens of media outlets gathered in the south end of Central Park, awaiting a news conference announced by Sheriff’s Department officials. Meanwhile, hundreds of parents were also standing by, clutching their phones waiting to hear from their children.
“The impact of this on the school is tremendous,” Barger said, noting support teams had been set up to work with students.
Santa Clarita Mayor Marsha McLean, who said she was overcome with an “indescribable” feeling knowing her granddaughter was at Saugus High, said the city was working to set up counseling for families at the Activities Center on Centre Pointe Parkway.
Counselors were available for grieving families Thursday night.