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Parents of Saugus High School shooting victims file wrongful-death lawsuits

Students sign a card in memory of Gracie.
Thousands gather at Central Park in Santa Clarita to remember Gracie Muehlberger and Dominic Blackwell, who were killed in the Saugus High School shooting last year.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The parents of the two Saugus High School students who were killed during a shooting by a classmate last year have filed wrongful-death lawsuits against the school district.

In separate lawsuits filed Monday, days after the one-year anniversary of the teens’ deaths, the parents of Dominic Blackwell, 14, and Gracie Anne Muehlberger, 15, allege that the William S. Hart Union High School District failed to take actions that could have prevented the tragedy.

The families are seeking an unspecified amount in compensation and asking the district to make safety changes.

“We just want it to be safer for the children, because at the end of the day this is what it’s about,” Dominic’s father, Frank Blackwell, told KNBC-TV news.

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“It isn’t the 8 seconds,” Gracie’s father, Bryan Muehlberger, said. “It’s the 43 minutes prior to that that something could have been done. And that’s what angers me.”

In the lawsuits, the parents allege that school officials failed to supervise the quad area where a 16-year-old stood for about 40 minutes before opening fire on his classmates.

The parents claim that school administrators didn’t confront the student when he skipped class. Both lawsuits allege that he stood by himself in a “trance-like state” in the quad area without supervision.

Although he was supposed to be in class, the student “was allowed to hang out in the quad area by the school’s ‘Legacy Wall’ for approximately 40 minutes by himself, without any interruption or questioning from school supervisors, staff, and/or teachers,” the Blackwells’ lawsuit states.

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“After standing unchecked in the outdoor quad for approximately forty minutes,” the suit continues, the student “walked to another spot in the same quad, and stood still in a ‘trance-like-state’ for several more minutes until he ultimately put on a pair of sunglasses and pulled a .45-caliber handgun from his backpack.”

The Muehlbergers’ lawsuit alleges that the school district’s Text-a-Tip line assigned to Saugus High School was not operable during or before the shooting, and that security cameras monitoring the campus were obscured by overgrown trees and not actively monitored.

Gracie Muehlberger’s parents also claimed that the Los Angeles County coroner’s office failed to protect their daughter’s identity after the crisis.

In the lawsuit, they said that several family members learned of her death through the news media though the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department placed a security hold on her file.

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A spokesperson for the coroner’s office said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the school district said officials are not commenting on the lawsuits.

“The William S. Hart Union High School District and Santa Clarita Valley continue to grieve with the Muehlberger and Blackwell families one year after the tragic incident on November 14, 2019,” the district said. “We were honored to coordinate with the Muehlberger & Blackwell families and the City of Santa Clarita in the recent Unity of Community remembrance event to honor Gracie and Dominic.”


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