A teen wielding a semiautomatic handgun opened fire at a Southern California school on Thursday morning, killing two of his fellow students and injuring several others before fatally wounding himself.
Police said they responded to a report at 7:38 a.m. local time of an active shooter situation at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita. Officers arrived on the scene two minutes later and found several people shot, Capt. Kent Wegener of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said at a news conference.
Gracie Muehlberger, 15, and Dominic Blackwell, 14, were killed during the shooting. Three others were injured and are expected to survive.
Three other teenagers, including a 14-year-old girl, a 15-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy, were hospitalized after the shooting. Two of the teens were released in good and stable condition. Only one student remained in critical condition and was still receiving treatment as of late Thursday afternoon, hospital officials said.
The 16-year-old suspect, identified as Nathaniel Tennosuke Berhow, was hospitalized after shooting himself in the head. He died at the hospital at 3:30 p.m. Friday.
School security footage showed Berhow arriving on campus Thursday morning, removing a .45-caliber handgun from his backpack and shooting at five students in the quad. Berhow then shot himself in the head. The attack lasted 16 seconds.
Investigators believe that Berhow appeared to have planned the shooting but shot students at random.
“It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment act,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a news conference Friday.
A motive for the shooting has not been determined. Police said it was the suspect’s birthday.
Villanueva said that Berhow appeared to have experience with the firearm used during the attack. The student was able to continue shooting students even after the gun initially malfunctioned.
Officials do not know how Berhow obtained the gun he used in the shooting or where it originated. Berhow’s deceased father had owned six guns, though none of those firearms were used in the shooting, according to Villanueva. Investigators also uncovered several unregistered firearms at Berhow’s residence.
The gun found at the school is being analyzed in a crime lab.
Three off-duty law enforcement officers were the first to respond to the scene of the shooting.
Detective Daniel Finn of the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Station had just dropped off a family member at the school shortly before the shooting broke out, according to Villanueva. Finn was in the car with Officer Sean Yanez of the Inglewood Police Department and Officer Gus Ramirez of the Los Angeles Police Department at the time.
“[Finn] was exiting, driving away from the school, along the perimeter, when he saw all of the children running away from the sound of the gunfire,” Villanueva said. “He turned around and became the very first person on the scene.”
Finn, Yanez and Ramirez were the first officers at the school, entering the scene “literally within seconds of the shooting,” according to the sheriff.
They were quickly joined by uniformed sheriff’s deputies and a school resource officer.
After seeing that the handgun was on the floor and there was no longer a threat, the officers used trauma kits stored at the school to give first aid to those who were shot.
Live video Thursday showed officers surrounding a home in a residential neighborhood near the school. The sheriff’s department told HuffPost that the residence was an “area of interest.”
A resident who declined to give her name said she and her neighbors had been ordered to lock their doors and stay inside.
“I was shocked when I looked out and saw all the police,” the woman told HuffPost. “We don’t normally see stuff like this.”
The woman said police were searching the backyard of a home across the street from her.
The high school, about 40 miles north of Los Angeles, was evacuated and nearby Highlands Elementary and Rosedale Elementary schools were placed on lockdown as police searched for the suspect.
Students were seen on video leaving the school with their hands in the air, escorted by authorities. In the same video, several people were seen being loaded onto gurneys and into ambulances.
Saugus High School student Mason Peters described how his teacher and classmates jumped into action to lock down their classroom after hearing gunfire.
“All of a sudden, we hear this distinctive sound outside so my teacher quickly sprang to his feet, got up, locked the door, asking the students to get the keys,” he told CBS Los Angeles. “Then we turned off all the lights ... and reinforced the doors and we all just stayed hidden.”
Saugus High School serves about 2,500 students in grades nine through 12. Authorities set up a reunification point for parents and students at Central Park in Santa Clarita, roughly one mile away from the high school.
“It’s one of my worst nightmares as sheriff,” Villanueva said. “We all embrace our kids in the morning and send them off to school ... but you never know what someone is plotting.”
But violent school threats are not unusual in Santa Clarita, where six Hart School District students were arrested in September for making threatening remarks.
Anthony Breznican, a Vanity Fair reporter who lives in the city, said there are “new threats all the time” and it “happens so frequently, most parents stopped noticing.” The area fosters a “pervasive and reckless” gun culture, Breznican wrote on Twitter, pointing to a police raid last year that turned up 553 guns from a single home in the nearby town of Agua Dulce.
Last year, Saugus students participated in a nationwide walkout to protest gun violence following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead. Weeks later, Saugus students hosted a town hall to demand that elected officials pass stricter gun legislation.
“I’m so sick and tired of seeing students die because politicians and people in positions of power won’t do anything,” Saugus High School sophomore Olivia Hurst told a local radio station at the time.
Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, herself a victim of gun violence, said in a statement that new legislation that would strengthen the background check system needs to be passed immediately.
“It’s been 260 days since the House of Representatives passed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act,” Giffords said. “How many more deaths will happen before they sign that lifesaving legislation into law?”
Former Rep. Katie Hill, a graduate of Saugus High School, was reportedly in her backyard in the Saugus neighborhood of Santa Clarita when she saw helicopters overhead.
“I’m absolutely horrified that it’s happening at my school,” she told the Los Angeles Times.
“This gun violence epidemic is not beyond our control,” Giffords said. “We can take action to change this fate so horrific acts of violence don’t dominate our lives.”
Eight hours after the shooting, President Donald Trump issued a public statement about it on Twitter.
“We continue to monitor the terrible events at Saugus High School ... through our ongoing communications with Local, State, and Federal authorities,” he wrote. “We send our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those tragically lost, and we pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded.”
This article has been updated with details from a Friday news conference.
This article and headline have been updated to reflect changes in the number of injured, based on later information released by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after publication. Initial reports that six had been injured were later revised.
Andy Campbell, Sara Boboltz and Ja’han Jones contributed reporting.