The message flashed across the screen on Joy Songcuan’s phone just after 8 a.m., prompting confusion, and then fear.
“I’m OK,” the text from his son read, “don’t worry.”
At first, Songcuan didn’t know what his son, Karl, a freshman at Saugus High School, was talking about. Then another text came through.
“There’s a shooting.”
Authorities say a 16-year-old boy pulled a handgun from his backpack in the quad at the Santa Clarita campus on Thursday morning and shot five students. Then, the teen turned the gun on himself.
Two students, a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy, died. The suspect, who is in grave condition, and three other students were being treated at a hospital.
Even though Songcuan knew his son was alive, the morning hours were long and anxious. By noon, long after most students had returned to Central Park and sprinted into their parents’ arms, Songcuan was still waiting.
Using his Find My iPhone app, he tracked his son, whom he could see was walking from building to building on his high school campus. Songcuan pinched at his phone’s screen, zooming in. It looked like Karl was now somewhere near the school’s office.
His son had told him that he was one of about 20 students still on campus — eyewitnesses who were being questioned by officials. His son, Songcuan said, had been heading to his second class of the day — business — when the shots rang out.
“He’s a strong kid, but he’s still so young,” Songcuan said, his eyes sparkling with tears. “One thing I know for sure, he needs a hug.”
Denzel Abesamis, a senior at Saugus High School, was in his car about to turn onto campus early Thursday when he saw classmates running out.
“I automatically made a detour to leave because I knew something bad happened,” he said in a text message.
He called a friend he knew was already at school, and she told him there was a shooter on campus and that she was hiding in a classroom with five other students.
“I’ve always been worried [that] something like this would happen,” Abesamis said.
Paramedics and law enforcement quickly descended on the campus, treating the wounded. Several students in the quad were placed on gurneys and taken to ambulances in the school’s parking lot. Parents rushed to the school.
Emma Petersen, 14, was in a band room practicing for an audition when she heard three gunshots and another student yelled, “Run!” She grabbed her instrument and fled with a group all the way to the park, where parents and students would reunite later in the morning.
Petersen and several other students said it was fortunate the band had the week off, as the student musicians would normally have been practicing on a field near the site where shots were fired.
Another member of the band, 17-year-old senior Ayla Wright, said she saw a wounded student being tended to in the choir room. She also expressed relief that the band was not on the field Thursday morning.
“If we would have been on the field, we’re so loud, we might not have even heard the shouting,” she said.
Lauren Farmer, 17, said she was in the library when she heard a gunshot. At first she thought it was a balloon popping, but then she heard two more shots.
“That’s when we realized this isn’t normal,” she said. “Something is wrong.” Farmer and a friend, 15-year-old Hannah Schooping-Gutierrez, started racing for the main entrance and heard three more gunshots as they fled.
Schooping-Gutierrez said she was joined by a number of other students racing away from the school’s quad “fearing for their lives, with facial expressions that I’ve never seen before.”
She said several other students told them they had seen a gunman wearing all black open fire near the quad. Both girls said they were stunned but composed. They figured the gravity of what they had just experienced would sink in later.
“When I go home, I’m going to cry,” Schooping-Gutierrez said. “Right now, I feel like I need to be strong for my parents.”
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 until somebody opened their door and said: “There’s a shooter on campus.”
“That’s when my heart sank,” he said. In an instant, the class of about 30 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.”
The class 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 shots but were unsure where the shooter was.
“We had no clue whether the shooter was on the opposite side of campus or right outside our door,” he said. “That fear made it feel like we were waiting in silence forever.”
Eventually, a SWAT team came and escorted them out in single file.
“How do we recover and step forward past this incident?” the senior asked.
Hours later at the reunification center, hundreds of parents stood, some so overwhelmed by the anxiety they were biting their nails as they waited for their children. Many called out names and jogged past deputies, crying, when they spotted their sons and daughters.
Kerrina Cragun-Rehders, 54, nervously rubbed her shoulders as she waited for her son, a junior. She knew he had not been harmed, but she was still desperate to hear his voice.
“You never think it will happen here, but you never thought Columbine would happen either. Now it’s us,” she said. “We know he’s OK, but you just want to get your arms around him.”
Times staff writer Hannah Fry contributed to this report.