City Council provides direction over memorializing SHS shooting victims

Residents stand around the memorial set up at the Central Park flag pole at the Saugus Strong Vigil in 2019. Signal file photo.

Central Park will soon have an addition to its name that will honor the victims of the Saugus High School shooting, following a vote Tuesday from Santa Clarita City Council members. 

On Nov. 14, when Gracie Anne Muehlberger and Dominic Michael Blackwell died after a shooter opened fire on his fellow classmates at Saugus High School and then turned the weapon on himself, students, faculty and staff evacuated to Central Park to reunite with their loved ones. Thousands returned to the park on Nov. 17 to grief the victims. 

After hearing from multiple residents and a back-and-forth amongst themselves, the council’s unanimous vote approved appending the name to “Central Park — In Memoriam of Gracie Muehlberger and Dominic Blackwell.” 

An official name addition to the park would still require consultation and consent from the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency, according to city officials. 

Their vote also directed that city staff meet with the victims’ families to begin discussions around the design and placement of a monument to honor Muehlberger and Blackwell. Some suggestions have already been made from both city officials and the families, including one from Councilwoman Marsha McLean, who shared the idea of placing a bench near the entrance of the park with a memorial of the two teenagers. 

Council members Bill Miranda and Bob Kellar suggested the Santa Clarita Arts Commission join in with the families in the planning process, but McLean disagreed, saying the process would prolong and that “the family should have a say” on the decisions made. 

All five stood behind the idea of dedicating, rather than renaming, Central Park with the name additions to the entrance signage and agreed that a memorial would also be appropriate. 

Their vote came after several residents voiced support for the name addition during public comment. Among them were the Muelhberger and Blackwell families, as well as Sean Tretta, the father of one of the student survivors. 

“I know some of you on the council may even feel burdened by this request. Therefore, allow me to suggest another way of looking at this,” said Tretta. “It’ll still be known as Central Park. But the addition of the words, ‘Central Park — In Memoriam of Gracie Muehlberger and Dominic Blackwell’ will not only pay tribute to their lives, but forever speaks symbolically to why 15,000 of us came together there on November 17 … We did it because we recognize the importance of that moment.” 

Resident Tony Maldonado said the naming of parks and facilities “should be approached with caution, patience and much deliberation and not merely on emotions,” adding that he “vehemently” opposed appending the park name. 

City staff, in collaboration with families, had discussed over the City Council’s summer hiatus, ideas for how to memorialize the teenagers. A city agenda report showed that ideas also included expanding the Youth Grove site at Central Park, or adding a separate memorial at the entrance or at a different location within the park. One example families presented to city staff is that of a colorful, totem-like sculpture located at the Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek in Florida.

Once plans for a monument are decided, the matter is expected to return before the City Council for approval at a future meeting. 

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