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‘This world lost a bright, shining light’: Santa Clarita shooting victims remembered

Saugus High School shooting memorial
Hailey Stuart, a freshman at Saugus High School, and her sister, Ashley Stuart, hug after placing flowers and paying their respects at a memorial at Saugus High School on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019 in Santa Clarita.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

He was the oldest of four brothers, a football player with a goofy grin. “A little guy with a big heart,” a friend said.

She was a cheerleader who loved fashion and brought out the best in other people. A friend remembered: “You would just smile looking at her.”

Dominic Blackwell, 14, and Gracie Anne Muehlberger, 15, were killed this week when a gunman opened fire at their high school in Santa Clarita. The two are now united by a tragedy that has become all too common on school campuses nationwide.

On Thursday morning, a 16-year-old student pulled a pistol from his backpack and began firing in the quad at Saugus High School. He wounded five students, then turned the gun on himself, officials said.

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The shooter was pronounced dead Friday. The other three teenagers who were shot are expected to recover, doctors say.

By late Friday afternoon, the horror and shock of another school gave way to mourning in Santa Clarita.

Dozens gathered at a makeshift memorial at the city’s Central Park, just a short walk from the high school. Candles and teddy bears piled up on the grass around a pole from which an American flag flew at half-staff.

Sebastian Martinez, 12, placed a football on the grass in honor of Dominic, whom he played football with in a youth program.

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The boy arrived at the park just before nightfall with his father, Xavier Martinez, who had grown to know Dominic’s family through their sons’ friendship. Martinez said he spent most of Thursday with Dominic’s family.

“He was always smiling and laughing,” the older Martinez said of Dominic. “It’s so unfair.”

Xavier Martin hugs his son, Sebastian Martinez, who played football with Saugus High School shooting victim Dominic Blackwell
Xavier Martinez hugs his son, Sebastian Martinez, 12, who played football with Saugus High School shooting victim Dominic Blackwell.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Dominic was remembered by friends and family as a jokester with a huge grin. His Instagram page includes the name “comedian,” a clear nod to his budding comedic persona.

Anthony Martinez, a student at Canyon High School, called Dominic not just his teammate, but his brother.

“He was always smiling, making people laugh, always positive, he was the sweetest kid ever,” Anthony wrote on Twitter. “We need more people like you.”

On a GoFundMe page, Dominic’s family remembered his “goofy laugh, cheesy smile, a huge, caring heart.”

“This world lost a bright, shining light,” the page reads. “He was taken from his family and friends in the most senseless of ways. His three brothers will miss their big brother greatly.”

On Thursday, Saugus High, home to 2,500 students, joined a long list of schools that have doubled as sites of mass shootings. Police said the shooting started and ended in just 16 seconds.

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One victim, a 14-year-old boy, was treated at a hospital and released Thursday afternoon.

Two girls, 15 and 14, remain at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills and are now in the same room, surrounded by their families.

The 15-year-old was shot below the navel, authorities said. The bullet lodged in her hip and was removed by doctors. The 14-year-old had wounds to her left shoulder and lower abdomen, doctors said Friday. Both girls are expected to be released within the next few days.

Investigators think the attack was planned but said they do not believe specific students were targeted.

Gracie had celebrated a birthday on Oct. 10. She was described by classmates as sweet and fun, someone who had a momentous impact in her short life. Alexa Olsen, a freshman at Saugus High School who was in a dance class with Gracie, remembered her as a goofy, fun girl who cheered her on.

When the girls made eye contact in the middle of practice as they danced to jazz, Gracie would make funny faces and the two would burst out laughing, Alexa said. When they made a mistake, the two would laugh together and keep on dancing.

“She was so nice and kind to everyone,” said Alexa, 14. “You would just smile looking at her.”

Chloe White, 17, who helped coach the girls cheerleading team, said Gracie had a bright personality and always looked as if she enjoyed being onstage. She was quick to throw out encouragement to her teammates as they got ready to perform.

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“She was always telling people they could do it,” Chloe said. “ ’You got this, guys, you’re going to be great.’ ”

Gracie’s parents said in a GoFundMe campaign that they are searching for a way to memorialize their daughter. The account raised more than $9,000 in its first hour.

“It is with the most unexplainable brokenness that we share our Gracie went to be with Jesus on Thursday morning,” the page reads. “Our vivacious, funny, loyal, light of our lives, Cinderella, the daughter we always dreamed to have, fiercely strong and lover of all things fashionable — was our best friend. She is going to be missed more than words will ever be able to express.”

The Muehlbergers concluded the post with a message to Gracie: “We will love you always Sweetpea.”

Times staff writer Hannah Fry contributed to this report.


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