DA releases report for declined charges in Saugus High shooting

Law enforcement and firefighters search the campus for additional students who might be hiding after a fatal shooting at Saugus High School on Nov. 14, 2019. Tammy Murga/ The Signal
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Officials with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office released the charge evaluation worksheet from two misdemeanor charges considered to be filed against the mother of the shooter in the fatal Saugus High School tragedy Nov. 14, 2019.

The report from county prosecutors notes that deputies from the Sheriff’s Department served a warrant at the home of the shooter and the shooter’s mother, Mami Matsuura-Berhow, 56, of Saugus, the day of the shooting in which Nathaniel Berhow fatally shot Gracie Muehlberger and Dominic Blackwell and wounded three others before killing himself.

“The allegations presented for filing involve contributing to the delinquency of a minor and criminal storage of a firearm,” according to the report from Assistant District Attorney John Moulin, who reviewed the filing from the Sheriff’s Department.

“Among other items found cluttered under suspect’s bed in the master bedroom were two handheld gun cases,” the report noted. “One case contained an unloaded handgun which appeared to have been built from an 80% unfinished frame/receiver kit. The second case only contained a .45 caliber cartridge without a firing pin.”

The report continues, noting guns were also found in the garage and the shooter’s room. 

“Inside the suspect’s son’s bedroom door was an unloaded single-shot Colt derringer,” according to the ADA’s notes on the evidence seized, which also included an “unloaded semiautomatic rifle, which also appeared to have been built from an 80% kit.” The report notes the rifle was found in an “unlocked makeshift gun safe.”

In 2015, the shooter’s now-deceased father, Mark Vincent Berhow, was placed on what first responders commonly term as a 5150 hold, which is also noted in the D.A. Office’s report. (A person is placed on a 5150 hold when their mental health state creates a risk for their own safety or the welfare of those around them.)

“At that time, 42 firearms were removed from the home by LASD and destroyed,” according to the charging report. 

Mark Berhow later died of a heart attack in December 2017, approximately two years before the shooting.

Ultimately, investigators found that “no prints, DNA or other forensic evidence was presented to connect the suspect to the rifle, derringer or handgun recovered.”

The report notes that the charges require prosecutors to prove the suspect acted “intentionally or with criminal negligence” for the delinquency charge, and that the suspect must “know a child is likely to gain access,” to prove criminal storage.

Officials also noted they didn’t believe the charges could be proven “BRD,” or beyond a reasonable doubt.

Toward the end of the report, a question is shared that could remain unanswered regarding the origin of the kit guns mentioned in the case. Such “ghost guns” are the focus of a pending lawsuit by family members of the victims, who are seeking to have those guns — like the one used in the Saugus High shooting, which are assembled from kits and therefore lack serial numbers — regulated as other guns and rifles are. 

“It is unknown,” the report concludes, before noting that charges are to be declined, “who built out the handgun or AR rifle.”

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