SCV Water board approves dedication of SHS shooting victims at Central Park

Residents stand around the memorial set up at the Central Park flag pole at the Saugus Strong Vigil Sunday night. Cory Rubin/The Signal
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Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency board members voted Tuesday to approve a dedication at Central Park to honor the victims of the deadly Saugus High School shooting, following heated commentary from residents who urged them to pass the designation. 

The approved move in a 9-3 vote was to designate “In Memoriam of Gracie Muehlberger and Dominic Blackwell” onto the base of the west monument sign located at the entrance of the park, which currently has signage of the city and the water agency, along Bouquet Canyon Road. 

The board considered three options, recommended by an ad hoc committee created to consider the matter: append the park name, add a plaque with the same phrase on a pillar of the entry sign or make no change to the sign but provide the city with other alternatives for separate signage. 

On Nov. 14, 2019, when Gracie Anne Muehlberger and Dominic Michael Blackwell died after a shooter opened fire on his fellow classmates at the 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, 2019, to grieve the victims. 

The Muehlberger and Blackwell families spearheaded efforts, including garnering more than 10,700 signatures in a petition, before the Santa Clarita City Council to append the name. 

On Tuesday, Bryan Muehlberger and Frank Blackwell, fathers of the victims, urged the water board to focus on the name addition as they proposed before the City Council, and said they would support the designation along the base of the west entry monument sign, ultimately influencing the water board to approve that option.  

“This Central Park project will be an incredible step and continue to provide community members a place to acknowledge, to understand, to grieve and to heal,” said Blackwell. 

Several residents of the dozen who spoke during public comment criticized the water board for having to wait nearly two hours to speak on the matter while board members commended those who have resigned or whose terms will end, and demanded they approve appending the park name. 

In August, council members voted unanimously in support but official name additions still required consent from the SCV Water Agency because the agency owns the land the park is built on and has final approval on all signage, including the name of the park, according to Bill Cooper, chair of the Central Park ad hoc committee.

A seven-page report, prepared by board member and ad hoc committee member Ed Colley, recommended to reject the proposed name addition, citing that placing the victims’ names along a major public thoroughfare could incite others to mimic the tragedy and that “a memorial would best serve the community if it was in a destination in which the intentional visitor could reflect in peace and solitude.”

Blackwell said the families have spoken to mental health professionals who have suggested that memorializing the victims in the proposed manner “is actually better.” 

The committee had even suggested providing funds to assist in building a water feature in conjunction with a possible place of reflection related to the tragic shooting as “many find the sounds of gently flowing water to be soothing and perhaps even healing.” 

In addition to appending the park name, the Muehlberger and Blackwell families are working with the city to add a separate memorial, potentially near the entrance of the park. Preliminary designs depict two, 12-foot obelisks with mosaic tile.

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