Saugus High Shooting: Central Park becomes a reunification center

Students streaming out of Saugus High School walk toward a line of buses waiting to take them to a safe location Thursday, Nov. 14. A vigil is scheduled for Sunday, p.m., and can be viewed at Bobby Block / The Signal.

Thursday morning began just like any other day for many students at Saugus High School.

Freshmen Riley Weeks and Emilee Nigra were by the locker rooms, waiting to change for volleyball practice.

“We heard a shot and then four shots came right after, so we knew it was gunshots,” Weeks said, adding that they just started running.

A Saugus student had opened fire on campus, leaving two dead and four others injured.

“There was a bunch of other kids running, and everybody was screaming,” Nigra added. “Then we had to climb and crawl underneath the pipeline on the hill.”

The pipeline she’s describing is the 10-foot-wide Los Angeles Aqueduct pipeline that runs through Santa Clarita. Construction workers who were working on the hill nearby then helped students get to safety, according to the girls.

Law enforcement and firefighters search the campus for additional students who might be hiding after an active shooter incident Thursday morning at Saugus High School. Tammy Murga/ The Signal

The girls were surprised to see everyone working together rather than panicking.

“I was very thankful that everybody was being so considerate and helping people because it was very stressful with all these kids trying to cram through this one little spot under the pipe,” Weeks said.

“Everyone was just very nice to each other, helping each other get through it,” Nigra added.

They kept running, getting about a mile down Bouquet Canyon Road to a church before stopping as they were scared the shooter may be following, they said.

Meanwhile, Nigra’s older sister Sarah, a senior at Saugus, was stuck at the school in lockdown. Her class had been watching a movie when they heard the gunshots.

“I looked around at other the people, because I was just like, ‘Did I hear that correctly,’” Sarah said. “I quickly look to my left and a teacher came storming in, screaming, ‘Get in.’ … I think at least 30 kids were fighting to get through the door.”

She remembers standing by the door with a friend, holding onto the door because it didn’t have a lock. Both had participated in “Every 15 Minutes” just last week. “So, we fake died like a week ago.”

Families reunite on the streets outside of Saugus High School as students were evacuated following a shooting on campus Thursday that left at least two dead. November 14, 2019. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Sarah said she was shaking as she texted her mom, “which I never thought I’d ever have to do.”

Sarah and Emilee’s mother, Debi, read those “horrible” messages, which included texts that read: “shooter on campus” and “I love you so much.”

“‘I’m so terrified Mom and Dad,’ she said, ‘I’m scared. Emmy got off campus, but I didn’t. I’m so scared,’” Debi said, adding her reply, “We love you. Be strong.”

Afterward, Sarah saw one of the officers whom she had met through “Every 15 Minutes.” “He came up and hugged me so tight, and said, ‘I was so worried about you.’ I started crying because that really hit home.”

Students were taken from the school to Central Park where they could be picked up from their parents.

“We had to line up and walk out with our hands up,” said Darren Hanna, junior at Saugus High School. “Then they walked us here so I’m glad to be away from the school.”

Darren’s brother Ryan, also a junior at Saugus High, recalls being worried because his brother was required to keep his cell phone in a “phone pocket,” which was out of his reach, while in class.

“He didn’t have his phone so I couldn’t make sure he was OK,” Ryan said.

Sheriff’s Deputies stand guard over hundreds of evacuated Saugus High School students at Central Park in Saugus after a shooting incident at Saugus High School on Thursday, November 15, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

Both said they were confused when gunshots rang out and compared the noise to balloons popping.

“My teacher opened the door and grabbed three kids, then locked us in,” Darren added. “Ten minutes later, we were taken out and walked to the park.”

At the park, parent Lynne Yoder-Rosman was waiting for her daughter, who was a witness to the shooting.

“I was at work when I got a text from my daughter saying there was a shooter at the school,” Yoder-Rosman said. “I just told her to stay calm and get to a safe place.”

Yoder-Rosman said she was glad her daughter was safe, but questions what compels this violent behavior from students.

“What are we doing wrong?” Yoder-Rosman said. “Young kids are becoming so desensitized to these tragedies, and now it’s happened in our community.”

Jim Holt/The Signal

Parent Cindy Post heard about the shooting on social media. “As soon as the first post went up, that’s when I started trying to contact my (14-year-old) son and, of course, doing what he should have done, he didn’t respond right away.”

It took her awhile to get in touch with him, but ultimately she was able to find out that he was safe.

Nearby Highlands Elementary School was, too, quickly placed under lockdown, and many family members also went to the park in hopes that they could find out more about their kids.

“My grandson’s in the special needs program (at Highlands),” Robin Bauer said. “My daughter dropped him off. She was going to work and saw the police, so she went back, but he’d already gone in. It was too late.”

Bauer paced back and forth, watching as Saugus students were reunited with their parents as she waited to find out more.

“You don’t think it’s going to happen where you live,” she said, “it’s terrible.”

Signal Intern Raychel Stewart contributed to this report.

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