School Climate & Safety

2 Dead, 3 Injured in California High School Shooting

By Denisa R. Superville & Stephen Sawchuk — November 14, 2019 | Updated: November 14, 2019 5 min read
People wait for students and updates outside of Saugus High School after reports of a shooting on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, in Santa Clarita, Calif.

Two students—a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy—were shot and killed and three other students were injured in a shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, Calif., early Thursday morning, authorities said.

The suspected shooter—a 16-year-old male student at the school—opened fire with a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol inside the school’s quad area, shooting the five victims before shooting himself in the head, Kent Wegener, a homicide captain in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said in a news conference.

The suspect could be seen in surveillance video “clearly withdraw” a gun from his backpack before he opened fire, Wegener said.

The injured students were a 15-year-old girl, a 14-year-old girl, and a 14-year-old boy, Wegener said.

Police said Thursday night that they still have not identified a motive for the shooting.

The situation was so fluid that officials initially announced that only one person had died, but they had to change course during the press conference to add that another student had died.

The suspect—who attacked the school on his birthday—was taken to a local hospital, along with the five victims, Wegener said.

Authorities looked into reports that threats against Saugus High had been posted on social media and an investigation into two threats had “no nexus” to the shooting, Wegener said.

Authorities are also combing through surveillance videos from the high school and have begun to scrub social media for clues.

Six high school students in the district were detained on felony charges in September after allegedly posting threats online, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time.

Local news footage showed the 2,400-student high school surrounded by law enforcement officers as students were evacuated from the school after being locked down on campus for a couple of hours. Abandoned backpacks and paper were strewn on the premises.

“Words are insufficient in times such as these,” said Collyn Nielsen, the chief administrative officer of the William S. Hart Union High School District, who added that the district will have grief centers and mental-health counselors available to help members of the community.

The high school is located about 30 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. Students interviewed by local television reporters described a chaotic scene of kids running from the campus quad area after hearing the gunfire erupt at the start of the school day. Others said teachers and students barricaded doors and turned off the lights. Some reported arming themselves with scissors.

Students said the school mostly had juniors and seniors on campus at the time of the shooting.

Saugus High students were bused to a nearby park where they were reunified with their parents.

“We don’t have metal detectors...we walk into school with an open gate and we don’t expect anything to happen,” a 15-year-old sophomore said in an interview with Los Angeles’ ABC7 News.

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department was first alerted to the incident at 7:38 a.m. Pacific time, and first responders were on the scene within two minutes. Authorities said officers were able to administer first aid to students using “stop the bleed” kits that were at the school.

School Shooting Is the 22nd to Kill or Injure in 2019

The tragedy at Saugus High is the 22nd school shooting that has resulted in death or injury by gunfire in 2019, according to the Education Week school shooting tracker.

It’s also the largest-scale incident since May 7, when 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo was shot and killed and eight others were injured by a male student in a shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch, a charter high school in suburban Denver.

In the chaos just after the Saugus High shooting unfolded, authorities reported fluctuating numbers of injuries.

District officials immediately issued a lockdown for all schools in the area.

Students interviewed by the media referenced lockdown drills they’d participated in, which are conducted by school resource officers in partnership with the Santa Clarita Valley division of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. They’d been told to move to the center or “core” of the high school.

The district had assigned a school resource officer to every school, and according to its website, conducts at least two lockdown safety drills a year; students can also report concerns via texts to a tip line. Many schools now conduct active-shooter drills as part of their emergency preparedness.

District officials praised the response of teachers, staff, and students.

“The gun violence experienced across our nation, and all too often on school campuses, has prompted our District, like others, to conduct staff and student trainings for these unthinkable events,” Mike Kuhlman, deputy superintendent said in a statement to the community. “We take the training seriously; we prayed that we would never need it. Yet today, our brilliant staff bravely and vigilantly went into action. Placing a priority on their students’ safety, our wonderful Saugus High School team were quick to order students to shelter in place, and your students responded. Praise them for their responsible behavior, especially in the face of overwhelming fear.”

Schools Are Still One of the Safest Places for Children

A cascade of high-profile mass shootings in houses of worship, at live music events, in retail stores, and in schools in recent years have fueled a culture of fear in American society, including in K-12 education. With two large-scale school shootings in 2017—18 killed in Parkland, Fla., and 10 killed in Santa Fe, Texas—public fears about school safety and gun violence remain extremely high. But the data show that, on the whole, schools are one of the safest places for children.

The massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland set off a wave of activism around gun-control—much of it driven by students themselves—and at times leading to polarizing debate over how best to keep schools safe. In Florida and other states, lawmakers moved to put more armed police and school personnel in schools. But most police who work in schools will never encounter an active shooter, as shootings in schools remain statistically rare.

The shooter in the Parkland attack was a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and had shown many signs of being a potential threat.

Most of the violent attacks in schools over the past decade were committed by students who telegraphed their intentions beforehand—and could have been prevented, a new report from the U.S. Secret Service concludes.

Most of those students were motivated by a specific grievance, and every single one was experiencing extreme stress. But there remains significant variation among the perpetrators, and schools should use a comprehensive analysis to detect true threats rather than trying to profile students, the report says.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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