1004 GMT December 14, 2019
Katie Holt, a fine arts teacher, had pushed the piano in the music room against the classroom door, two students in the room told Reuters afterward, and grabbed a fire extinguisher, presumably to use as a weapon.
“She turned off the lights... She locked all the doors. She pushed the piano to the door, totally barricading,” said Eddie Mendoza, 17, in a phone interview, his voice still breaking from emotion and grief.
At 7:38 a.m., a high school student on his 16th birthday, whose name has not been released, opened fire outside Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, killing a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy and wounding three other teens before shooting himself in the head, officials said.
Students outside fled in panic, while those inside ran to safety in classrooms, as they had been repeatedly drilled to do.
One of them was one of the gunman’s victims, Mendoza said.
“I think I’m bleeding. I think I got shot,” he recalled her saying.
“It was just so hard hearing her say ‘I want my mom,’ it was heartbreaking,” Mendoza said.
‘Calm and collected’
Another student who identified herself only as Pamela said Holt retrieved a first aid kit that was in the classroom and began treating the girl’s wounds on her shoulder and torso.
“Our teacher was very calm and collected,” Pamela said, adding that the students all remained calm. Even the wounded girl, who remained conscious and alert, kept talking and “making jokes to cope with it.”
Mendoza said the teacher was “literally a hero.”
“We did our best, we called 911 four times, we told them where we were.”
Pamela said roughly 35 students were holed up in Holt’s small office adjacent to the music room for about 29 minutes before they heard police pounding on the barricaded choir room door.
About seven officers then ushered the students out of the inner office into the choir room, with the students ordered to keep their hands raised to their heads.
“We all put our hands up,” Mendoza said, “everyone crying and shaking.”
With the school on lockdown, they were told to sit on the choir risers, where they were kept for about two hours before being escorted out of the school, Pamela said.
Students were taken by school bus to a reunification point at Santa Clarita’s Central Park to meet their parents.
Pamela said the ordeal left her feeling “numb,” as she sought to console other classmates shaken by the events.
“I just feel distant from it,” she said.
Her father, standing beside her, said, “I’m sure it will hit you later.”
People who knew the 16-year-old shooter described him as a quiet, smart kid who they’d never expect to turn violent.
One fellow junior at the high school said the suspect is a Boy Scout who she relied on to study for advanced placement European history. A student in his physics class said he seemed like “one of those normal kids.” A next-door neighbor who grew up with him said he kept to himself but was never threatening, The Associated Press reported.
The Associated Press determined the boy’s identity based on property records for his home, which police said was searched after the shooting, and interviews with three of his friends.
The boy lived with his mother in a modest home on a leafy street in Santa Clarita, a Los Angeles suburb of about 210,000 people known for good schools, safe streets and relatively affordable housing.
His father died two years ago. Two years before that, the father had been arrested amid a domestic dispute with the boy’s mother.
“A quiet, to-himself kid,” said Ryan McCracken, a 20-year-old next-door neighbor. When McCracken was younger, he said they played together, sometimes in boy’s backyard tree house.
“You wouldn’t expect anything like that from him.”
Police said they had yet to determine a motive and any relationship between the gunman and the victims. Authorities said they have no indication the boy was acting on behalf of any group or ideology.
They confirmed a message — “Saugus, have fun at school tomorrow” — was posted to the Instagram account believed to belong to the suspect before the shooting and were trying to determine its relevance and whether someone else with access to the account might have written it.
Brooke Risley, a junior at Saugus High, said she had known the boy since elementary school and saw him Wednesday in engineering class. Last year, they were paired on engineering projects and sometimes he came to her house.
She couldn’t recall anything indicating he might be violent. The closest she could get was a keychain he had with a hollow bullet.
Risley described the boy as somewhat introverted, though open with his close friends, and “naturally smart.” She said he wasn’t bullied, had a girlfriend and had been an active member of a local Boy Scout troop.
Joe Fitzpatrick, a senior who helped the teacher in the boy’s physics class, called him a “good, quiet kid” who didn’t miss assignments and did well on tests.
“He just seemed like one of those regular kids,” Fitzpatrick said.
Authorities were questioning the boy’s mother on Thursday, searching for an explanation like so many others.
“We’re all wondering,” said Risley, “what was the motive?”