After months in the making, the Saugus High School video production class premiered Saturday — the anniversary of the deadly school shooting — an hour-plus virtual event for the community to join them in continuing to be #SaugusStrong.
The program featured music from local middle and high school youth, photographs and interviews with students and staff members to honor victims Gracie Muehlberger, 15, and Dominic Blackwell, 14, who lost their lives after a classmate opened fire on the Saugus High campus before turning the weapon on himself.
And while much of the focus centered on the victims, the video highlighted a theme, which was also the title of the program: “Unity of Community.”
“No words, no program, no anniversary remembrance can repair that which was irreversibly broken by that horrible event on Nov. 14,” said Mike Kuhlman, superintendent of the William S. Union High School District, which worked with the city of Santa Clarita and the victims’ families to bring forth the virtual event. “But we can act together to build a better community moving forward.”
“Unity of Community” embodies how much the community has come together following the tragic events that have scarred so many, officials and students reiterated.
“We will never forget that Thursday that began so bright but ended so dark,” said Mayor Cameron Smyth in the video. “However, out of that darkness came new hope and unity here in Santa Clarita. We saw our community come together like no other time doing whatever we could to lend a hand, a shoulder, whatever kind of support our community members needed, particularly those who are affected by this tragedy.”
From embracing each other at Central Park three days after the shooting to donations, therapy and even the establishment of The GracieStrong and Dominic Blackwell foundations, the community has continued to support one another, in hopes of recovering but never forgetting, as Saugus High student Mia Tretta, one of the three classmates injured by gunfire, said.
“We can move forward and be happy again without ever forgetting,” she said, reminding students that it’s OK to still feel “sad or mad or constantly tired” because “you’re not alone.”
Addie Koegle and Andrew Gardetto, the two other survivors, also shared a message on the importance of strength amid tragedy.
“Today is a day of remembrance, love and especially strength,” said Koegle.
First responders, law enforcement, teachers and staff were also remembered for their valiant services on Nov. 14. Saugus High Assistant Principle Marcus Garrett showed a newly added plaque at the campus that commemorates their efforts. Individual shadowboxes were also presented to Los Angeles County Fire Department Station 111, the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station and individual law enforcement officials who were first to respond to the shooting and aid the wounded.
The Muehlberger and Blackwell families, who thanked everyone for tuning in, shared how their foundations have stepped up to help the community.
The GracieStrong Foundation, for example, has donated thousands of dollars to other families who have suffered other tragedies, held a Christmas caroling event that helped collect more than 1,000 canned goods for those in need and has launched a challenge to urge students to speak up against bullying.
“The mission of GracieStrong Foundation is to empower, inspire and support individuals to speak up, realize that their voice is powerful and matters and enable them to fight for their values, and have their voices heard and impact change for the greater future,” said Gracie’s father Bryan Muehlberger.
The Dominic Blackwell Foundation has also given back, with safety initiatives and donations of laptops to students amid COVID-19 distance learning.
“And we do these things, knowing that it won’t ever feel like we’re doing enough,” his mother Nancy Blackwell said. “We will always try to do better, to do more for Dominic because Dominic deserves so much more than he was given in this life.”
The Unity of Community event, held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is expected to become an annual event “that brings together the community in an unprecedented way,” said Bryan.