SANTA CLARITA, CA — A 16-year-old boy marked his birthday by pulling a semiautomatic handgun from his backpack and opening fire on his classmates at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita Thursday morning. He killed one boy and one girl before turning the gun on himself, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Six people were wounded in the mass shooting. The teen gunman is in grave condition after shooting himself in the head. The attack occurred before morning classes began in the quad of the school, sending terror through the community and setting off an hours-long manhunt.
About two hours after the mass shooting, police confirmed the suspect was transported to the hospital along with the shooting victims. Neighbors identified the shooter to the Los Angeles Times as Nathaniel Berhow, the son of a well-liked family that had recently suffered the loss of a loved-one.
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“He was in scouting, he was in track and a very kind, sweet boy,” a neighbor told the Times. “I don’t understand the psychology.”
Three off-duty police officers — each dropping off their children at the high school when the shooting occurred —were at the scene within seconds of the first gunshot. The attack lasted just 16 seconds. The three fathers found six people in the campus quad suffering from gunshot wounds. They rendered aid to the victims, and it wasn’t until later that authorities realized that one of the wounded was the shooter.
Sheriff’s Capt. Kent Wegener said detectives reviewed security video that showed the gunman reach into his backpack, pull out a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun and open fire.
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“Today was (the suspect’s) 16th birthday,” Wegener said. “At 7:30 a.m., he was in the quad with fellow students. He was seen on video removing a .45 caliber handgun from his backpack. Then, he commenced shooting.”
“There are no other subjects who are outstanding as part of this incident,” Wegener added.
It was unknown what prompted the violence, with Wegener saying Thursday afternoon, “We have not yet established a motive or a nexus between the subject and his victims” other than they were all students at the school.
Wegener said the shooting appeared to be completely random, with the gunman firing at anyone in his vicinity.
One girl, 16, died from her injuries at a nearby hospital, and her parents were present. A 14-year-old boy was also killed.
Two girls — one 15-year-old and one 14-year-old — and a boy, 14, were also shot.
A spokesperson from Henry Mayo Hospital discussed the status of the shooting victims at the hospital.
“We had four patients arrive at the hospital, two are deceased, one is in critical condition, and one is in good condition,” Patrick Moody, Public Information Officer of Henry Mayo Hospital, said. “I can’t answer if the shooting suspect is at Henry Mayo.”
The shooter’s motives are still not known and remain under investigation by officials from the sheriff’s department and the FBI. Paul Delacourt, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said there was no early indication the suspect “was acting on behalf of any group or ideology.”
One school parent told KNX Newsradio the suspect had posted what is now seen as an ominous message on his Instagram account, saying simply, “Saugus have fun at school tomorrow.”
The shooting began in the quad area of the school.
Officers converged on the campus at 21900 Centurion Way within a minute of the 911 call, locking the campus down and escorting students to safety. Footage from the scene showed an empty school, littered with backpacks and papers dropped as students fled from the shooter.
When the gunfire erupted, several students ran and hopped a fence to escape. Others hid in the office, closets, and behind classroom doors. One student reported hiding in the choir room.
After the victims were taken to the hospital, the quad remained roped off with caution tape.
One parent waiting to be reunited with her child, told KNX Newsradio that she had been in touch with her 16-year-old daughter, who was in a choir class when a wounded student stumbled into the classroom. Her daughter and at least one other teen worked to staunch the bleeding, she said but had no additional information about the condition of the injured student.
Several students said they immediately went into lockdown mode when they heard the gunfire. Huddled behind locked doors, several called their parents in tears.
One student athlete named Shawn told KTLA that he and his teammates ran into a room and hid when they heard the shots. “We were just all texting our parents and calling them and telling them we were in a room, and that we’re ok and fine,” he said. “We were just trying to keep quiet and not make noise.”
Another student said she ran off campus when she heard the gunfire.
“I heard a bullet hit the wall right next to where we were standing … we ran as fast as we could,” an 11th grader named Riley told KTLA. “There were hundreds of us just running as far away as possible.”
One female student told reporters after the shooting she heard the first gunshot and thought it was a balloon popping.
“The second and the third one is when everyone knew … it was gunfire,” she said, adding that students began scrambling for cover.
“I felt like I was running for my life,” she said. “… At that moment I just prayed and prayed that everyone was OK and safe.”
The girl said students had not heard of potential threats targeting the campus.
“We never heard of any threats or any problems,” she said. “This just suddenly happened. Yesterday was a normal day, and now we’re here getting evacuated from our school.”
During the incident, neighboring schools were placed on lockdown, and residents were advised to avoid the area and lock their doors until the investigation was complete.
The warnings, however, didn’t stop parents from searching for their children. The roads surrounding a park designated for reunification were gridlocked, and parents lined up for blocks to see for themselves that their children were safe.
The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station sought to reassure panicked parents early Thursday morning.
Parents were directed to find their children at Central Park on Bouquet Canyon Road. Sheriff’s officials warned parents that “hundreds of students on campus during the shooting” would need to be interviewed by investigators before they could be released. Those students remained inside the multi-purpose room, while others were at a nearby church. Meanwhile, parents located their children and remained close until they could safely take them home.
Though the suspect was no longer a threat, bomb sniffing dogs and a large police presence remained at the school throughout the day.
Officers investigated the shooter’s home on Sycamore Creek Drive, and the FBI and ATF ensured there was no one injured inside as investigations into his residence, computer and other social media continued.
As of this report, that home remains blocked off by police tape.
Broadcast footage from the scene showed several people being treated by paramedics, and students were being evacuated with their arms up by deputies carrying rifles.
“LASD has a large response which includes SWAT,” said Undersheriff Tim Murakami. “Our mission is to not only locate and arrest the suspect but protect others from harm. Please pray for the recovery of the victims and the safety of the responding deputies.”
All schools in the William S. Hart Unified High School District, including nearby elementary schools, Rosedell and Highland, were placed on lockdown as a precaution following Thursday morning’s shooting.
The White House released a statement saying President Donald Trump “is monitoring the ongoing reports of a school shooting in Santa Clarita, CA. The White House encourages all those in the area to follow the advice of local law enforcement and first responders.”
The remainder of the day, students and parents attempted to process the events of the day, and determine where they will go from here.
From shooting drills to active shooting incident.
For years, the school has practiced active shooting drills. The shooting came the same month that the school conducted its active shooter drill and two months after six students were arrested for allegedly posting threats of school violence online, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Many students said the drills helped them to get through the morning. They ran to safety and huddled behind locked doors, calling their parents. As detectives piece together the events of the morning, questions turn to red flags or warnings that may have been missed.
Undersheriff Tim Murakami said detectives are investigating rumors that the Saugus High shooter may have posted threats on social media.”If you ever learn of posted threats, please notify us ASAP. It will result in an immediate investigation,” Murakami said. “We have successfully prevented possible acts of violence as a result of such reports.”
It’s been a trying time for the Santa Clarita Valley community, which recently endured mass evacuations due the Tick Fire that scorched thousands of acres and forced 40,000 to flee from their homes.
A vigil for those lost, so that healing can begin.
The city of Santa Clarita has opened their Activities Center Thursday for students and community members to gather and receive support.
“We are all grieving and in shock as a result of today’s terrible events. We will have counseling support available at that time. We welcome everyone to join us,” Mike Kuhlman, Deputy Superintendent for the William S. Hart Union High School District said.
Law enforcement officials lamented that the Southland is now home to the latest in a string of school shootings that have occurred nationally.
“It’s a sad day in Saugus, it’s a sad day in Los Angeles County and the nation … another tragic shooting at a school,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva in a late-morning news conference. “I hate to have Saugus be added to the names of Columbine, Parkland, Sandy Hook, but it’s a reality that affects us all throughout the nation, something we’re going to have to deal with… We’ve got to figure out what are we doing wrong and how can we stop this from happening in the future, so we’ll figure that out over time.”
The FBI’s Delacourt also decried the violence.
“… We’re talking about something that no parents should ever have to go through, no high school students should ever have to worry about, yet we’re here to talk about it again.”