SANTA CLARITA, CALIFORNIA – A Southern California high school student killed two classmates and wounded three on Thursday, pulling a .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun from his backpack and emptying it in a matter of seconds as the school day began.
He saved the last bullet for himself. It was his 16th birthday.
The teenaged gunman, whose name was not provided by police, survived the self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head but was in grave condition in hospital, law enforcement officials said.
Capt. Kent Wegener of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department told reporters that the entire incident, which was captured on videotape, had taken 16 seconds as the young man stood in one spot and fired on one student after another.
“From right where he was standing, he doesn’t chase anybody, he fires from where he is until he shoots himself,” Wegener said.
A next-door neighbor, registered nurse Jared Axen, said the suspect had seemed introverted, quiet and sad, possibly despondent over the loss of his father from a heart attack in December 2017.
Axen, 33, said it was the boy who found his father deceased, not long after the older man had regained his sobriety and gotten his life “back on track” after years of struggling with alcohol abuse.
“I would say he (the boy) was hurting and couldn’t ask for help,” Axen said of the suspect, who was a track athlete at the school, involved in Boy Scouts and liked the outdoors, going on hunting trips with his father.
He was born to a mother from Japan and a white father, with an older sister who became a nurse and moved away.
“I would ask him how school was. … He would never bring up concerns of bullying or being a loner there,” Axen said.
The scene at Saugus High School was reminiscent of other mass shootings at U.S. schools, including Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a former student with an assault gun killed 17 people on Feb. 14, 2018.
It was the 85th incident of gunfire at a school this year, according to Everytown, a gun control advocacy group. It seems sure to reignite a debate over gun control in the 2020 presidential election.
The two slain students were a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy. Two other girls, ages 14 and 15, were wounded, as was a 14-year-old boy, Wegener said.
Investigators said they did not know what led the student to open fire at the school 40 miles (65 km) north of Los Angeles.
Police said the accused shooter had acted alone.
There was no immediate word on where the teen gunman obtained the weapon.
A 16-year-old Saugus High School junior named Pamela, who spoke on condition that she not give her last name, said she was in her first-period choir class when some girls ran into the room and said there was a shooting going on.
“Our teacher immediately grabbed a fire extinguisher and got us into her office and locked the door,” Pamela said, adding that one of the girls had been shot in the shoulder.
Taylor Hardges reported seeing people running in the hallways shouting “Run!” She raced into a classroom, where a teacher barricaded the room.
“We’ve had drills. It doesn’t prepare you for the real thing,” she said.