A teen wielding a semi-automatic handgun opened fire at a Southern California school on Thursday morning, killing two of his fellow students and injuring several others before attempting to take his own life.
Police said they responded to a report of an active shooter situation at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita at 7:38 a.m. local time. Police arrived on the scene two minutes later and found six people shot, including 14-, 15- and 16-year-old girls, and two 14-year-old boys, Capt. Kent Wegener of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said at a news conference.
One of the 14-year-old males and the 16-year-old female have died.
The suspect, a 16-year-old male, is being treated at a hospital, Wegener said. Security footage from the school showed the suspect take a pistol from his backpack and shoot five students on the quad before shooting himself in the head.
A motive has not been determined. Police said it was the suspect’s birthday.
The sheriff’s department initially said the suspect, described as an Asian male student in dark clothing, was on the loose. About 90 minutes later, law enforcement officials reported that the suspect was in custody.
Earlier, live video 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.”
Henry Mayo Hospital in Valencia, California, has been treating victims of the shooting. Three males are still being treated. Two are in critical condition.
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, located 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 have 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 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.
Authorities will review the suspect’s “digital footprint” as the investigation unfolds, Villanueva told CBS Los Angeles. He said he has not heard reports that the suspect posted threatening social media posts prior to the incident.
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 neighbourhood 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.”
President Donald Trump has so far not commented on the shooting.
Andy Campbell, Sara Boboltz and Ja’han Jones contributed reporting.