Student Kills 2 at California High School

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A 16-year-old male student was in custody and being treated at a hospital after a shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, Calif., the authorities said.CreditCredit...David Walter Banks for The New York Times

A 16-year-old student pulled a handgun from his backpack at a high school in Santa Clarita, Calif., on Thursday morning and shot five students, killing two, the authorities said. The gunman was in grave condition after shooting himself in the head, they said.

The suspect has not been identified, but the police said that he was a student at the school, Saugus High School, and that Thursday was his birthday.

The students who died were a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy, the authorities said. The other victims, all injured by gunfire, were identified as a 14-year-old girl, a 15-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy.

The gunman fired a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol in the quad of the school just after 7:30 a.m. and it was caught on video, said Capt. Kent Wegener of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He added that there were no bullets in the gun when it was recovered.

Medical staff transferred the suspect to the hospital before the police had identified him, Captain Wegener said.

Capt. Wegener said the gunman’s girlfriend and mother were with detectives at a Santa Clarita police station. Officers also searched the suspect’s home, he said, which is less than two miles from the school.

Images from the scene showed paramedics transporting the wounded on stretchers, outdoor tables littered with the backpacks of students who had fled, and tear-filled reunions between parents and students.

Sherri Risley, 50, said her daughter, who is 16, had known the suspect since elementary school.

“You grew up with someone your whole life, and then this happens, and it’s really close and it’s surreal,” Ms. Risley said.

Another student, Sharon Orelana Cordova, told KNBC-TV that she hid under a table in a nurse’s office until police officers came to get her. “When I got out, I saw this person lying on the ground,” she said, “with blood all over.”

Santa Clarita is home to many firefighters, police officers and other emergency workers, some of whom dropped their children off at the school and may have also responded to the shooting to aid the authorities, said Alex Villanueva, the county sheriff.

Saugus High School, tucked in a suburban Southern California neighborhood of ranch homes below brown, rolling hills, was surrounded by a swarm of S.U.V.s from the police, the sheriff’s office and the highway patrol.

Clusters of officers holding long guns stood around the campus, where murals read “California Distinguished School.”

Tristan Aguirre, a 17-year-old senior, said he was in English class when he heard shots, a situation the students had prepared for in shooting drills.

“It’s the world now,” he said. “The world now is weird.”

Samuel Arreaza, a 15-year-old sophomore, said he was about to head into school when he saw police cars, and his phone started “exploding.” A friend was sheltering in the library. Samuel said he turned around and stayed in his house. His parents said it was the only time they would not yell at him for being late to school.

Samuel said that he grew up in Santa Clarita and that it was a peaceful, laid-back community. The students at Saugus had done active shooter drills, and he “grew up knowing this is a thing that happens.”

Now those conversations will be more real.

Lucy Gulley, 47, lives up the street from the school and was taking her younger son, who is 11, to junior high nearby when she saw students running.

At first, she told her son they were goofing around. But then she saw panic on their faces.

She and her husband invited several students into their home to call their parents.

“It’s very emotional,” she said. “You just automatically get into the state of mind where you put your child in that situation.”

ImageParamedics transported an injured person after a shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, Calif., on Thursday.
Paramedics transported an injured person after a shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, Calif., on Thursday.Credit...KTLA-TV, via Associated Press

Jeremy Thompson’s two sons attend Saugus High School, and he said he first learned about the shooting when his younger son, a sophomore, called him early on Thursday morning.

Mr. Thompson said his older son, a senior, told him by text that he and his classmates had barricaded themselves in a classroom — likely their first period class — and covered up the windows. Later, he and many other students were moved to a gymnasium by school staff, Mr. Thompson said.

Cellphone reception was spotty, and Mr. Thompson said he was only getting updates from his sons intermittently — terse texts that seemed to understate the gravity of the moment.

“You would expect them to be more affected, but it’s just the reality that has plagued kids for so many years at this point,” he said.

The sophomore told his father that there had been shots fired at school and that he was walking away from the building toward his mother’s house nearby.

“Kids today, they never call, so you get this call, and you automatically wonder what it’s going to be,” Mr. Thompson said in an interview from a parent reunification center nearby. He had been at the school the night before to see one of his sons performing in a theater production of “Shakespeare in Love,” where everyone had been celebrating a successful show.

“And then I come here this morning and see a bunch of them huddled together in tears,” he said of their peers.

Mr. Thompson, a former Democratic staffer, said that as the names of shooting sites around the country stack up — Parkland, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas — he had just wished Santa Clarita would not be added to the list.

“You just hope against hope that it’s not going to hit your school or your kids,” he said.

Maxximus Almaraz, 16, said first period was just wrapping up when he heard the gunshots. At first, he thought other students were popping Doritos bags on the ground.

His class barricaded the door before anyone mentioned an active shooter on the intercom, he said. Immediately, students started trying to piece together what was happening using social media, text messages and Snapchat.

“At first, we were making sure everyone’s O.K.,” Maxximus said. Then the students started trying to identify the gunman.

He said a photo of one student was circulated, but was quickly determined to be the wrong person. A screenshot Maxximus showed had an image of another student with text saying “please delete pic of the other kid this is the shooter.”

Maxximus said he was afraid, but in the classroom, students were more shocked by the fact that their school was the latest to experience a shooting.

“We weren’t saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to die,’” Maxximus said. “We were like, ‘How crazy this is happening to us.’”

Mass shootings have been occurring across the country with increasing frequency. Here are some attacks that took place in California in recent years.

Orinda, Oct. 31, 2019: Five people were killed and several injured at a Halloween party held at a home rented through Airbnb in the San Francisco suburb.

Long Beach, Oct. 30, 2019: Three men were fatally shot and at least nine other people were injured at a Halloween house party when a gunman opened fire on the gathering from an alley.

Gilroy, July 28, 2019: A man with an assault-style rifle opened fire at a festival, killing three people and wounding 13 others, and then died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after exchanging gunfire with police officers.

Thousand Oaks, Nov. 7, 2018: A man set off smoke bombs to create confusion at the Borderline Bar, a country music venue, then shot a security guard at the entrance and opened fire into the crowd inside the bar, killing 12 people. He was found dead at the scene.

Rancho Tehama Reserve, Nov. 14, 2017: A gunman rampaged through a small community, firing at an elementary school and several other locations, killing at least four and wounding at least 10, before he was fatally shot by the police.

San Diego, April 30, 2017: A man fired a gun at a poolside party while talking on a cellphone with an ex-girlfriend, killing one person and injuring at least six, before the police shot and killed him.

San Bernardino, Dec. 2, 2015: A heavily armed man and woman killed at least 14 people and wounded at least 17 at a social services center before dying in a shootout with police.

Isla Vista, Calif., May 23, 2014: After stabbing three men to death in his apartment, a college student methodically opened fire on bystanders, killing three more and wounding 13.

Santa Monica, June 7, 2013: Four people were killed and five wounded as a gunman walked through Santa Monica with an assault-style rifle, firing at people, cars, a public bus and buildings before being shot and killed by the police.

California has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation. But like many places with strong firearms restrictions, its laws are often undermined because guns can easily be brought in from states where the laws are weaker.

In July, for instance, a teenager armed with what officials later described as an AK-style semiautomatic assault rifle opened fire at a garlic festival in Gilroy, Calif. The 19-year-old had legally purchased the weapon across the state line in Nevada.

The authorities identified the weapon used on Thursday as a .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun. It is illegal for minors to possess handguns in the state, except in very limited circumstances, and a permit is required for anyone to carry a concealed handgun. But as long as the gun’s magazine could not hold more than 10 rounds, in other respects it was probably a legal firearm in California.

Proposition 63, approved after a massacre in San Bernardino, Calif. in 2015, outlawed large-capacity ammunition magazines in the state. A Federal District Court overturned that part of the law this spring, but the state attorney general, Xavier Becerra, has appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

California became the first state to ban assault weapons in 1989. It was also an early adopter of a so-called red flag law that allowed family members and law enforcement officials to petition judges to temporarily take weapons away from people who appear to be a danger to themselves and others.

Other firearms restrictions that help set California apart from many other states include a 10-day waiting period for buying a weapon; limiting people to purchasing one handgun per month; and making gun buyers pass a written test and obtain a safety certificate. The state also gives local police the authority to reject applications to carry concealed weapons. And it recently increased the age for buying rifles and shotguns from 18 to 21.

The state took another big step in 2016, when voters approved Proposition 63, which requires background checks not just for guns but also for ammunition sales.

Mr. Becerra reported that in just one month, the new ammunition checks had blocked more than 100 felons and others barred from gun ownership from buying bullets. Mr. Becerra disclosed the numbers as part of the state’s defense against legal action taken by gun-rights groups to try to block the new ammunition background checks.

Lockdown drills to prepare for shootings or other disasters have become ubiquitous in American schools; 95 percent of schools held them in 2015-2016, according to the federal government.

Mental health experts have begun to raise concerns about the potential of such drills, some of which are eerily realistic, to scare or even traumatize children.

At Glencoe High School in Alabama this week, the sound of gunshots rang out and students jumped out windows in a mock escape. Student actors were strapped to stretchers and loaded into waiting ambulances.

In Jefferson County, Colo. — home to Columbine High School — teachers were recently given buckets and kitty litter, which could be used as toilets in the case of an extended lockdown.

Teachers in West Virginia have reported that so-called “code red” drills are sometimes held without their or their students’ prior knowledge — so that they are never sure whether the terrifying threat is real.

School safety is a $2.7 billion industry, with districts purchasing increasingly sophisticated technology. Some schools require visitors to scan their driver’s license or thumbprint, or submit to a facial scan.

But despite the crushing tragedy of what seems like an endless string of school shootings, schools remain among the safest places for American children, who are less likely to die there than at home or in their neighborhoods. School safety experts say the most important emergencies for schools to prepare for are those that are more regular occurrences: traffic accidents, weather disasters, thefts, assaults and child abductions linked to custody battles.

Some of the measures that could prevent those events, such as locking external and internal doors and signing in guests, can also help prevent or mitigate school shootings.

Senator Kamala Harris of California sounded exasperated in a telephone interview on CNN, telling the anchor Anderson Cooper several times that the situation was “just tragic.”

“Our kids are living in fear,” she said. “This is yet again, another reason why they are so afraid, that literally, they will die.”

Other candidates also weighed in. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who has called for stiff regulations including a gun licensing program, reiterated his desire to “bring a fight to the N.R.A.” Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said she was “heartsick for the victims.” And Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont highlighted the need for what he called “common sense” gun safety legislation.

“We cannot accept this as normal,” the former housing secretary Julián Castro said. “We must act on behalf of our children.”

Added the entrepreneur Andrew Yang: “As the parent of two school age boys, this is our worst nightmare come to life.”

Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman from Arizona who was shot in the head by a gunman in 2011 and has since become an advocate for stricter gun-control laws, called on President Trump and Republican lawmakers to take action after what she said was the 366th mass shooting so far in 2019.

“Americans have had enough of living in fear that today gun violence will change their lives,” Ms. Giffords said in a statement, adding that national leaders “can’t ignore the nightmare this public safety threat creates any longer.”

Ms. Giffords called on the Senate to pass a background checks bill approved by the House in February. The bill, which would require background checks for all gun purchasers, including those at gun shows and on the internet, was the first significant gun control bill to clear the chamber in a quarter-century.The legislation was propelled by last year’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which prompted a wave of student-led activism that pressed Democrats to unite around gun control.

“Every politician paid to defend the status quo by the gun lobby needs to answer whether they are comfortable with live shooter drills becoming routine, students running terrified from their classrooms, and entire communities being locked down,” Ms. Giffords said, adding, “How many more deaths will happen before they sign that lifesaving legislation into law?”

Katie Hill, who graduated from Saugus High School in 2004 and represented the area in Congress before resigning earlier this month, said Santa Clarita has higher number of gun owners than average across the country. During her tenure, she told MSNBC, the House of Representatives passed four pieces of gun control legislation that have yet to be taken up by the Senate.

“This is something that my colleagues and I talked about all the time,” she said from her backyard, as helicopters searching for the shooter circled overhead “When you go back to your communities, people want to know what you’re going to do, and we’re really stuck.”

Several of her campaign interns and volunteers go to the school, she said on Twitter: “Praying for all.”

Arit John, Matt Stevens, Heather Tal Murphy, Dana Goldstein, Richard A. Oppel Jr., Amy Harmon and Patrick J. Lyons contributed reporting. Susan C. Beachy contributed research.