Authorities said the shooting at Saugus High School that left two students dead and three wounded occurred over a 16-second period in which a classmate pulled out a gun in the quad area and opened fire.
The gunfire broke out at 7:30 a.m., when students at the school were scheduled to be in their first-period classes, said Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
Paramedics rushed onto the campus, treating the wounded, and law enforcement officers searched nearby neighbourhoods for a 16-year-old boy they thought had fled after the shooting. Authorities later said the suspect, identified by neighbours and sheriff’s officials as Nathaniel Berhow, was found on campus with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Officials said he was taken to a hospital and is in grave condition. Authorities said a message referencing the shooting, thought to have been posted before the attack, appeared on an Instagram account believed to be linked to the suspect. But Instagram said late Thursday, as first reported by BuzzFeed News, that the account didn’t belong to the teenager. A company representative said via email that the account has since been disabled “for violating our policies.”
Sheriff’s Capt. Kent Wegener said the teen was standing in the quad when he pulled a .45-caliber handgun from his backpack and opened fire on other students before turning the gun on himself. It was the suspect’s 16th birthday, authorities said.
The scene at the school at 21900 Centurion Way was chaotic, with teenagers walking in a line behind armed law enforcement officers with their arms raised in the air. Many of the injured were treated in a grassy area on campus before being placed on gurneys and taken to ambulances in the school’s parking lot.
Two students, a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy, died after being taken to a hospital. A 15-year-old girl, a 14-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy were being treated for their injuries. One of the teens, who was originally listed in good condition, was released from the hospital in the afternoon.
Some students remained locked in classrooms for more than an hour amid the massive police presence. Eventually, they were led off the school grounds by deputies. Some were in tears. As they walked, one student asked aloud a question on the minds of many others: “What kind of a world is this?”
Andrei Mojica, 17, was in his AP government class going over a worksheet when his teacher went outside and saw people running. Nobody in class panicked; then somebody opened the door and said there was a shooter on campus. His heart sank.
In an instant, about 30 students in the class were up and barricading the doors with desks and tables. They’d practiced this before, but “there was just something different about it from a simple drill to real life,” Mojica said.
The students sat in silence and had a fire extinguisher they were prepared to use as a weapon if anyone came into the classroom. They didn’t hear any gunshots.
“We had no clue whether the shooter was on the opposite side of campus or right outside our door,” Mojica said. “That fear made it feel like we were waiting in silence forever.”At a park down the street from the school, a stream of parents — some sobbing, others glued to their phones — gathered. They had been directed there by law enforcement to be reunited with their children.
Thursday’s shooting came two months after six students at the high school were detained on felony charges after authorities were alerted to threats the teenagers had made online. A Hart Union staff member discovered the social media posts “regarding committing acts of school violence” and alerted authorities, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
Detectives quickly determined who had made the posts, according to the agency. Villanueva said the threats were not connected to Thursday’s events.