The morning of Thursday, Nov. 14, triggered dark uncertainty for Canyon Country residents Alice and Tom Renolds.
Just before their daily morning walk, the couple heard over the television what Santa Clarita Valley families never wanted to hear: There was a fatal shooting at Saugus High.
On campus was their granddaughter Lexi, 15. As some families received a call or text message from their children that they were safe, others did not, including the Renolds family.
Eventually, Alice and Tom saw live news coverage of their granddaughter leaving the school building and communicated with their son Scott, Lexi’s father, about his daughter’s whereabouts. But those moments of not hearing from her at the time revived their worst nightmare.
“It was almost reliving that whole thing again of like us at night not knowing where our sons were and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, my son’s going through that whole feeling of not knowing where his daughter is and I’m going through that feeling of not knowing where my granddaughter is. Then, all those Saugus High parents having the same feeling we had that night,” said Alice.
That night was 20 years ago on Monday when Tom and Alice Renolds lost two of their three children, Timothy, 18, and Daniel, 15, in a car crash on Soledad Canyon Road. The high-speed collision killed the brothers and their friend Nicki Ianozzi. Rodney Adams, 45, also died after the vehicle the teens were in struck his car and went airborne.
Canyon High School student Marcus Lellan, who was the then-18-year-old driver, pleaded guilty to four felony counts of vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced to eight years in state prison. He went on to serve half of his sentence and was deported to Denmark, as he was a Danish citizen. The Renolds, who said they have not spoken with Lellan, believe he eventually returned to the SCV.
On Feb. 17, 2000, Alice remembers that empty, heart-wrenching feeling standing near the crash site as she waited to hear confirmation from law enforcement on whether the passengers in the vehicle were her two sons.
“I just fell down and started screaming that both of our sons were dead,” she said, describing what she did after hearing confirmation.
Years after the tragedy, Alice was unable to revisit family vacation locations where they would travel with Tim and Danny, while Tom preferred to stop by those places. The grieving process for each was different and that’s one message the Renoldses have and continue to share with other families who have experienced loss: There’s no one-size-fits-all to grieving.
“There’s not a rule book,” said Tom. “You can’t tell people how to grieve. For us, it was a long journey, like changing their rooms but keeping all of their trophies.”
Even after 20 years, as parents, that empty feeling still comes and goes but their efforts to help others get to a point where “the pain will ease” continues.
“I used to walk in those (support group) meetings and see all these parents laughing and smiling and I thought, ‘I’m never going to get to that point. I lost two children,’” said Alice. “And I now see other parents walk into our meetings and they say the same thing and now I tell them that they will see a point down the road where it will ease and you just have to be patient and know that you will get there.”
Their unity and strength to continue after losing two children has inspired many, including their close friend Kathleen Brown.
“I’m a bigger person for knowing both of them,” she said. “As a friend, it was hard for me to mention that my kids graduated or got married but Alice is a friend that celebrates my children’s success and wants her children to be remembered even though they didn’t have their graduations and weddings. It’s important for her to share our lives with her and not leave her out of it.”
Alice and Tom Renolds have also inspired many SCV youths, including their two teen granddaughters who will eventually become drivers, as they continue their decades-long advocacy of safe driving. They helped form the city’s Blue Ribbon Task Force, which helped establish the Santa Clarita Youth Grove, and have impacted future motorists with their story at local high schools for “Every 15 Minutes” programs.
Today, the retired couple, who remain active in the community and travel often, said they are happy to know that traffic-related deaths in the SCV involving minors have decreased over the years — but speeding remains an issue.
Alice, speaking in 2019 at the 14th annual Evening of Remembrance at Central Park, an annual event held to remember local youth who died in traffic-related incidents, implored local drivers: “Please, Santa Clarita teens and adults, slow down.”