Saugus shooting: Healing continues upon 3rd anniversary

A decorated stone and flowers were laid on the two memorial obelisks dedicated to Gracie Anne Muehlberger and Dominic Michael Blackwell, the victims of the Saugus High School shooting in 2019, at Central Park in Saugus, Calif., on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. The third anniversary of the Saugus shooting is a week from today on Nov. 14. Chris Torres/The Signal
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Monday marks the third anniversary of the Saugus High School shooting, and this year’s senior class is the last group of students on campus to have experienced the incident firsthand when, on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, students Gracie Muehlberger, 15, and Dominic Blackwell, 14, lost their lives.  

Many seniors at the school will be glad after Monday, when another anniversary has passed — their final anniversary while on campus, said one Saugus High 12th-grader who spoke to The Signal on the condition of anonymity.  

“I pretty much dread it — every anniversary,” she said. “I really do. It’s just something I don’t look forward to because I knew the two students.” 

On the morning of Nov. 14, 2019, a 16-year-old Saugus student opened fire on campus, shooting five of his fellow students and then himself. Three students were wounded and three others, including the shooter, died. The girl who spoke with The Signal said she sat next to Muehlberger in a P.E. class and was friends with Blackwell in junior high. 

Many seniors still have trouble coping with the incident, she added. In addition to what she expects to already be a painful day on Monday, she said she’s troubled by some younger students at the school who seem to be insensitive to the matter and to those going through a more difficult time. 

She told The Signal about a friend of hers who’d gone into the bathroom before class to find a group of younger students inside making a TikTok, saying, “OMG, three days ’til the anniversary of the shooting, let’s make a TikTok,” while giggling among themselves.  

“I feel the concern, that many of these kids do not take into consideration that many of us seniors are having a very difficult time with the healing of this,” the senior wrote in an email to the Saugus administration, an email she also sent to The Signal, “and seeing people make fun of it does not sit well with us, with many of us still having trauma. Please voice this to the juniors, sophomores and freshmen so they may be able to understand that we as seniors still have a very hard time with this.” 

Mike Kuhlman, superintendent of the William S. Hart Union High School District, told The Signal the student’s description of the incident was “truly discouraging to hear” and that administrators would be looking into it, while doing everything possible to ensure the Saugus seniors get the support they need.  

“The district has invested considerable resources in mental health supports to include social workers assigned at the site to supplement our academic counselor support, a wellness room and regular visitation from groups such as those that bring therapy dogs onto campus,” Kuhlman wrote in an email to The Signal. “We also employ licensed clinical therapists that have helped both students and staff.” 

The senior who spoke with The Signal was familiar with the services and said that, on Monday, she’d be taking advantage of what the school calls the “serenity space,” which is open and available to students in all grades to come and sit in peace. 

Asked how she’d cope with the emotions of the day, she said, “Other than ditching all of my classes and staying in the serenity space, that’s pretty much all I’ll be doing.” 

This week, Saugus High Principal Genevieve Peterson Henry sent a message to the Saugus community reminding them of the support services offered on campus. 

“Monday is Nov. 14,” she wrote, “and we wanted to take a moment and check in with our community and remind you of the mental health supports available for students at Saugus High School. As you already know, taking time to connect emotionally with your student is a healthy and fulfilling part of being a parent/guardian. Some students might need a little extra support from time to time. In working with students, staff and parents, it became clear that we all have unique needs and expectations for Monday. Some expressed wanting to ‘just have a normal day’ and others expressed the need for support.” 

Besides the services Kuhlman mentioned, the school is also providing what they’re calling a “senior safe space” from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday in the school’s multipurpose room, where seniors can go and connect with each other in student-led discussions and receive mental health support. There will also be a senior movie at brunch and lunch in The Forum at school.  

This will, indeed, be the last class to have experienced the shooting that has to go through another anniversary while on campus. The student who spoke with The Signal said she’ll be glad when she graduates and doesn’t have to be reminded of that horrible day again with the sights and sounds of the school.  

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