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Campus activities canceled after Santa Clarita high school receives threat

The exterior of Saugus High School in Santa Clarita
A man was arrested after allegedly making threats at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita earlier this week. Canyon High School in Santa Clarita moved its final exams online Thursday after a threatening message was found by a student.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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A student found a threatening message Wednesday at Canyon High School in Santa Clarita, prompting school officials to cancel on-campus activities a little over a week after the shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, where 21 people were killed.

Rather than attending school, students are taking their final exams online Thursday.

Graffiti spray-painted on a bathroom stall referenced the last day of the school semester at Canyon High and threatened the school, Principal Shellie Holcombe wrote in a statement posted to the school’s website.

School officials contacted the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and law enforcement said they would expand patrols in and around the campus and at the school’s graduation at College of the Canyons on Thursday.

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The William S. Hart Union High School District includes 10 high schools and six junior high schools in the Santa Clarita Valley. Like many school districts across the country, the district is on high alert following the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

“Deputies are working together with William S. Hart school district officials and are conducting a thorough school threat assessment at this time,” the Sheriff’s Department said in a statement. The Sheriff’s Department declined to provide any additional information about the incident Thursday morning.

Supt. Mike Kuhlman told the Santa Clarita Valley Signal that school officials suspect the graffiti is a “misguided prank” but they are still taking the matter seriously.

“While we suspect this is a hoax, we are telling kids to stay home [Thursday] and making attendance at work optional for staff at Canyon as an extra precaution,” Kuhlman said. “To reiterate, we do not suspect this is credible, but cannot determine one way or another definitively in time to calm anxious nerves. We hope this step alleviates unnecessary anxiety on this last day of the instructional year.”

Principal Holcombe said that while it’s important a student brought the message to the administration’s attention, there’s also serious concern that the message was made in jest.

“It is important for everyone to know that there are logical consequences that arise from the choice to make threatening comments — whether they be real or a misguided attempt at a joke,” Holcombe said in a statement. “We will be enforcing appropriate discipline and we know law enforcement will do so as well.”

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On Tuesday, a man was arrested on suspicion of making threats against Saugus High School in the same school district. The Sheriff’s Department identified the suspect as Joseph Serna, 19, from Newhall, a former student at the school, as reported by the Santa Clarita Valley Signal. Law enforcement did not find any weapons at a home where Serna lived, according to Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Natalie Arriaga. According to jail records, Serna has since been released on bond.

The Santa Clarita sheriff’s station did not immediately respond to requests for more information about Serna.

While officials and law enforcement are on high alert in response to the shooting in Uvalde, the Santa Clarita community experienced its own tragedy nearly three years ago. In November 2019 at Saugus High School, a student shot and killed two classmates and wounded three others.

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