Their children were gunned down at Saugus High. Parents sue for $50 million over ‘preventable’ tragedy
The parents of two Saugus High School students who were killed in a 2019 shooting have sued the school district for a combined $50 million, according to court records filed this week.
Dominic Blackwell, 14, and Gracie Muehlberger, 15, were fatally shot by a fellow student in November 2019. Three other students were injured in the shooting on the Santa Clarita school campus.
The shooter, 16-year-old Nathaniel Berhow, walked through the campus for roughly 40 minutes before opening fire on classmates and shooting and killing himself, according to a minute-by-minute recounting of surveillance footage that is included in court records. The shooting took place within seconds.
Parents Frank and Nancy Blackwell and Bryan and Cindy Muehlberger filed the lawsuits in 2020. They have alleged that the William S. Hart Union High School District’s inability to identify troubled students, lack of proper supervision on campus the morning of the shooting and absence of active-shooter training led to the deaths of their children.
Detectives were pursuing a larger drug trafficking case when they zeroed in on a Riverside County deputy. Sheriff’s officials say he worked for a Mexican drug cartel
“This tragedy was foreseeable and preventable,” a recent trial brief states.
The school district contends that it did not have a “legal duty” to prevent “this unfortunate and unforeseeable terrorist attack,” according to court records.
Citing footage, the records state campus supervisors were absent from their posts when Berhow entered the grounds with a .45-caliber handgun by way of an unmonitored entrance. One supervisor spent 20 minutes restocking a vending machine; another drove around the premises on a golf cart; and a campus supervisor who was in the quad area at the time of the shooting fled to safety, the records state.
The district was also aware that Berhow had an abusive family background that prompted an investigation by the Department of Children and Family Services, according to court records, and that he and his sister were under DCFS supervision. But no counselor from the district spoke to Berhow about his experience.
The Times has not independently confirmed Berhow’s connection to DCFS. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office previously declined to file charges against the mother of the shooter, who used a “ghost gun” that was assembled from parts.
Aariel Maynor called a female friend from a jailhouse phone and “laughed” about Avant’s killing and the publicity surrounding it, the sentencing document says
The school district said in its recent trial brief that it received no warning signs of trouble about Berhow. According to court records, friends had been concerned about his behavior in the days before the shooting. But the school tip line to report such issues was not working at the time.
“The District foresaw the risk of a school shooting,” court records state. “Multiple District personnel have said that ‘with respect to an active shooter, it’s not a question of if it happens but when it happens.’”
A legal representative for the William S. Hart Union High School District said the district was “not at fault” for the shooting.
“The District ... believes that it took all necessary steps to protect students, and that the criminal acts of Berhow were unforeseeable to the Hart District,” attorney Dominic Quiller said in a statement.
Julie Fieber, an attorney for the parents, said that a trial currently set for the end of October is expected to move to January.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.