It was like any other day of the week for the Branch and Beltran families — making breakfast, getting ready for the day’s routine — until they heard a swarm of police surround Saugus High School on Thursday morning as an active shooter incident developed.
“I was in the kitchen and had just finished cooking breakfast for my wife, and all at once all the cops came marching up,” said James Branch, who has lived right across campus since 1996. “I received a call from my nephew, he’s a sheriff’s deputy, to stay inside because there was a shooting. My wife and I rushed to lock all the doors and windows and go upstairs.”
Just one house down, 40-year resident Mario Beltran immediately thought of his 15-year-old granddaughter who was in first period when the incident developed.
“I opened the front door and saw police cars and fire engines arrive,” he said. “My granddaughter was there. She heard three shots and when she heard two more she saw the band that was playing out on the field running and climbing fences which is what she did and took off.”
Thursday’s incident is abnormal for a community known to be quiet, but it’s a harsh realization that it can happen anywhere, said Beltran.
“This is the first time something like this happened; this area has always been quiet,” he said. “Kids come to school and 15 minutes after they’re out, it’s clear; it’s quiet; never any kind of problems. But we tend to realize that it can happen anywhere. You hear about it in other states so when kids see that, they realize they can do things themselves. Why do kids do this?”
That’s one question students who escaped the active shooter scene said Thursday, including sophomore Hannah Schooping-Gutierrez and senior Lauren Farmer.
“I don’t know how anything like this could happen here,” said Schooping-Gutierrez, who ran off campus with friends after hearing gunshots. “We were by the library when we heard a gunshot and we really didn’t know what it was at first. We see people running down the stairs and we hear three more shots, so we sprint(ed) out of campus.”
That’s when she and Farmer spot a friend, who lives across the campus on Centurion Way, take several students inside his home and away from the sound of gunshots.
“He led a bunch of kids into his house and thank God he was there because we were safe. Our priority was to get off campus; we left all our stuff behind. I thought I was going to die. There’s something about the sound of a gun that’s terrifying.”
Just north of the school on Bouquet Canyon Road were dozens of parents waiting to pick up students at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where they safely evacuated. Some were consoling others while they waited to reunite with their children.
Parent Marcos Jimenez had just dropped off his daughter when he received a call from her about an active shooter situation while on Interstate 5.
“I slammed on the breaks and go off on the nearest exit,” he said. “I reversed and came immediately. I never thought something like this would happen here in this community. It’s a reality that anything can happen anywhere, though.”