Santa Clarita stunned as school violence comes to their community: ‘Now it’s us’

Saugus High School families reunite after campus shooting
Saugus High School senior Liz Kelshaw is hugged by her mother, Brandy Kelshaw, as they are reunited after Thursday’s shooting.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Kira Hooper sat in the quiet church thinking about how, at only 15, she had to run from school that day, fleeing into a neighborhood where friends driving through the area picked her up.

At a vigil Thursday night at Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita, Kira prayed, thanking God that she was safe.

Many students from Saugus High School came together at the vigil for the first time since a shooting at their school left two classmates dead and three injured.

“We didn’t get to see people until tonight, so it was good to see if everyone was OK,” 16-year-old Allie Enright said, standing next to Kira.

At community gatherings across the Santa Clarita Valley, residents came together over their collective heartache caused by another school shooting.

The day’s panic began about 7:30 a.m. as many were shuffling through their typical morning routine.


Investigators searching the suspected gunman’s papers and computer hard drives said there was no immediate indication of motive.

Anthony Breznican, 43, had just dropped off his daughter and son at school when his wife alerted him to news of a shooter at the nearby high school.

Breznican sprinted back to North Park Elementary, about two miles northwest of Saugus High School, where parents quickly piled into the lobby waiting for more details to emerge and gradually started pulling their children out of school.

“You’ve got kids in little pilgrim outfits planning to do their Thanksgiving pageant today walking out in tears,” Breznican said.

His 10-year-old daughter, a fifth-grader, broke down in tears after she told him a kid had hurt people at the nearby high school.

“The older ones knew exactly what happened,” Breznican said.

Authorities said a gunman wearing black shot at least five people. Two were killed.

The younger students processed their fear differently. Breznican’s son, a 6-year-old first-grader, said he heard that the culprit was Venom, a Spider-Man villain.

Although Santa Clarita has been identified as an idyllic place, Breznican said it has not been untouched by violence.

Some members of the community were killed in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting. Others had friends affected by last year’s Borderline Bar and Grill shooting in Thousand Oaks. And the city itself has felt the direct threat of fear.

“Santa Clarita had this threat of this looming over its head for a long time. My daughter started kindergarten in 2014, and on the first day, there was a parking lot full of sheriff’s deputies because a kid posted to Instagram that he was going to shoot up the school,” Breznican said. “You’d be crazy to think that something like that couldn’t happen here.”

At the reunification area at Central Park, hundreds of parents could be seen biting their nails and hugging one another as they waited for their children to be led over from an area where buses had arrived from campus. Many called out names and jogged past deputies, crying as they saw their children.

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Kerrina Cragun-Rehders, 54, nervously rubbed her shoulders waiting 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.

Several students said the shots were fired in the quad area, where freshman and sophomore students would have been waiting for their second-period classes to start.

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 Central Park.

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Emma and several other students said it was fortunate the band had the week off, because the student musicians would normally have been practicing on a field near the shooting scene.

Added Ayla Wright, a 17-year-old member of the band: “If we would have been on the field, we’re so loud, we might not have even heard the shouting.”

At the reunification area, Gina Painter, a drama teacher, hugged her mom and her sister, both of whom had come to check on her. Painter said she had been walking through the school’s parking lot when she heard at least three gunshots.

“A bunch of students started coming out of the gate,” she said. “They said, ‘There’s a shooter, there’s a shooter!’ And I said, ‘Run, run!’”

A day that began with the shock of a school shooting in Santa Clarita ended in prayer for many families who gathered for vigils in the area.

She texted a choir and band teacher, and learned that a student who was in the choir teacher’s classroom had been wounded.

“No matter how much you prepare, there’s still a part of you that doesn’t think this will happen to you,” she said.

Times staff writers James Queally, Marisa Gerber, Ruben Vives, Sarah Parvini and Dakota Smith contributed to this report.