Tuesday marks four years since Saugus High School bore witness to unspeakable tragedy: A 16-year-old student shot five other students before fatally shooting himself, leaving two other students dead and three others wounded.
In the years since, the campus community has marked each anniversary a little differently, as the need has arisen, said Saugus High Principal Genevieve Peterson-Henry.
“It’s evolved each year as we grow in our healing,” she said Monday in her office, “and I think it’s trying to put a focus on healing and bringing people together as opposed to the awful events of the 14th or the shooting.”
In following the advice on best practices from Dr. David Schonfeld, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and chair of the National Advisory Committee on Children and Disasters, the campus’ main memorial is not on the day of the tragedy.
Schonfeld, who also serves as director of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’ National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, shared a talk on how to deal with the tragic aftermath that several staffers cited in the days leading up to Tuesday as part of why the day is handled the way it is.
Accordingly, there probably won’t be a mention of it in the school’s news cast. Instead of a memorial assembly, there’s the Unity of Community event.
This year’s Unity of Community started with teachers and administrators, staff, some students and alumni, William S Hart Union High School District Superintendent Mike Kuhlman and others meeting up by the on-campus murals painted in honor of the two victims of the shooting, Dominic Blackwell and Gracie Muehlberger. The group walked to the memorial for the students at nearby Santa Clarita Central Park, where they held a moment of silence and then had a talk.
Henry said one of her most important jobs was making sure she was giving the staff and students the support they need, and the Unity of Community format was part of that decision.
Jim Klipfel, a longtime teacher at Saugus High, said part of the advice that stood out for him was the awareness of triggers. In the weeks following the shooting, even the outpouring of community support, such as large bouquets left as gestures, were difficult for some to see.
“The bottom line is, there’s a lot of people in pain, and we deal with it every day, and we are not disrespecting those unfortunate victims or their families,” said Klipfel, who was honored at the White House in 2021 as a National Teacher of the Year honoree, after winning state Teacher of the Year honors.
Klipfel also said the district made a lot of resources and helpful information available in the aftermath of the shooting, such as Schonfeld’s talk.
Larry Schallert, assistant director of the Student Health Center at College of the Canyons, also mentioned the great resources the Hart district provided in the aftermath in a phone interview Monday, and also said it’s important to continue to talk about how these tragedies can affect us.
The students who were on campus that day have since graduated. But, many of their brothers and sisters now attend Saugus High, he said. The parents of those children impacted still live here.
At COC, Schallert still works with students who are dealing with trauma from the campus shooting, which can take a long time to process.
“And we are still seeing students in our counseling programs that were affected by that experience,” said Schallert, who was named the state’s Social Worker of the Year in 2021.
“And it was certainly exacerbated by COVID,” he said, mentioning a few other tragedies that also have had community ties back to the SCV in recent years, such as the shootings at Borderline in 2018 and the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas in 2017.
He said the range of emotions survivors face includes anxiety, sadness, depression and loss, but also unnecessary guilt, depending on how the trauma occurred, as well as anger, resentment and shock.
“‘It was a tragedy. They survived it, and now they’re surviving,” Schallert said, in terms of a framework for talking about it in a healthy way. “And we know people were strongly affected — and here’s where you can get some help.’”
Those looking for information about mental health services in the SCV can visit BeTheDifferenceSCV.org.