SANTA CLARITA (CNS) – All schools in the William S. Hart Union High School District will be closed today and counseling made available to staff and students, one day after a Saugus High School student walked into the campus quad, pulled a .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol from his backpack and shot five classmates, two fatally, then shot himself in the head on his 16th birthday.
“Out of respect for the victims and their families, all Hart district schools will be closed (today)… and district counselors and support provided by neighboring districts will be available to students and staff… (today) from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Grace Baptist Church located at 22833 Copper Hill Drive,” Mike Kuhlman, deputy superintendent of the Hart district said.
The shooting, which occurred about 7:40 a.m. Thursday at the school at 21900 Centurian Way, lasted just 16 seconds and sent students scrambling for cover — some fleeing from the campus and others barricading themselves inside classrooms or offices.
“It’s a sad day in Saugus, it’s a sad day in Los Angeles County and the nation for another tragic shooting at a school,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva in a Thursday morning news conference.
Sheriff’s deputies responding to the school found six people in the campus quad suffering from gunshot wounds. One of them was later determined to be the suspect, whom Villanueva said was hospitalized in grave condition.
Sheriff’s Capt. Kent Wegener said detectives reviewed security video that shows the gunman reach into his backpack, pull out the gun and open fire. The weapon, which had no bullets remaining, was recovered at the scene.
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. 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.”
Officials also said there is no history of being bullied associated with the teen.
Of the five victims who were shot by the suspect, a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy, died at Henry Mayo Hospital in Valencia. The boy was a nephew of an LASD employee, Villanueva said in an interview this morning with NBC4.
Also wounded were a 14-year-old boy, a 14-year-old girl and a 15-year- old girl. One other person was taken to Olive View-UCLA Medical Center with a minor, non-gunshot injury, county Fire Chief Daryl Osby said.
The two injured girls were being treated at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills. A surgeon at the hospital told NBC4 one of the girls was shot in a shoulder and would not require surgery. The other girl had a gunshot wound just above the belly button, with the bullet lodging near her hip. She was to have undergone surgery later Thursday.
Gov. Gavin Newsom visited the injured students at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center.
“A remarkable experience, being with 14-, 15-year-old survivors, that are consoling you, not the other way around,” Newsom told Fox11. “They had this remarkable resilience, smiles on their face, one just coming out of surgery, the other one with two gunshot wounds and just remarkably blessed that they are alive, their families with them.”
Newsom called the spirit of the wounded students “amazing.”
Henry Mayo Hospital officials said one person who was brought to the hospital in good condition — believed to be the 14-year-old boy — was treated and released early Thursday afternoon. Henry Mayo officials confirmed earlier that a total of four patients had been brought to the hospital — two died and one was released.
Hospital and sheriff’s officials refused to confirm that the remaining patient at Henry Mayo is the shooting suspect, but that person is a male listed in critical condition.
Sheriff’s deputies swarmed the Saugus High School campus in response to the shooting, and fanned out through the neighborhood, initially uncertain whether a shooter was still at large.
Villanueva noted that three off-duty law enforcement officers — one with the sheriff’s department and officers from Inglewood and Los Angeles — were the first people on scene because they have children who attend the school.
After learning the suspect’s name by interviewing eyewitnesses and reviewing surveillance video, deputies went to his family’s home in the 22900 block of Sycamore Creek Drive and conducted an initial search to ensure there were no additional victims there, but none were found. Villanueva later said the teen’s mother and girlfriend were being interviewed by detectives.
The student was not officially identified by sheriff’s investigators, but multiple broadcast reports said the shooter is Nate Berhow.
“Today was his 16th birthday,” Villanueva told CBS2. “(He) was involved in student athletics, so doesn’t fit the bill of someone you would associate with this type of event.”
A cross-country teammate of Berhow’s was shocked he could be capable of such a violent act.
“He was such the nicest person… I don’t know why he would ever do this, especially on his birthday,” the teammate told Fox11.
Neighbors told reporters the family was mostly quiet, noting that the teen’s father had died two years ago, possibly from a heart attack.
After the shooting, the high school and all other schools in the William S. Hart Union High School District were placed on lockdown as a precaution, along with two neighboring elementary schools, as deputies searched for a possible suspect. All lockdowns were lifted by mid-morning.
An Instagram account attributed to the suspect included a post saying, “Saugus have fun at school tomorrow.”
However, that posting was deleted after the shooting occurred and the suspect was hospitalized and Instagram said the account did not belong to the shooter and has since been disabled “for violating our policies.”
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.”
President Donald Trump wrote on his Twitter page Thursday afternoon, “We continue to monitor the terrible events at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, through our ongoing communications with local, state and federal authorities. We send our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those tragically lost, and we pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded.”
In response to the shooting, police patrols were stepped up at some other Southland school districts. Los Angeles, Long Beach and La Verne police were among the agencies announcing increased patrols.
A prayer vigil was held at Grace Baptist Church and a community prayer service was held at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, both in Santa Clarita. A community vigil is being planned at 7 p.m. Sunday at Santa Clarita’s Central Park.