Nathaniel Berhow, the suspected 16-year-old shooter who killed two classmates and injured three others before attempting to take his own life in a 16-second rampage at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, on Thursday, was a “quiet” Boy Scouts member who recently suffered the loss of his father.
Police say they received a 911 call at 7:38 a.m. about a shooting at Saugus High School and officers arrived within two minutes and found six students in the quad suffering from gunshot wounds. They reviewed surveillance video which they said clearly shows the suspect walking onto the school's quad, pull a gun from his backpack and shoot five students. He then shot himself in the head.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said the students appeared to be randomly targeted by Berhow whose identity was revealed on Thursday by several news outlets.
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Authorities have not yet publicly identified Berhow’s victims but it was noted during a news conference that the students who died were a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy. A 14-year-old girl, a 15-year-old girl, and a 14-year-old boy were also in stable condition after being injured. Berhow’s condition was listed as grave.
“I don't even know what to do right now, I am just praying for my son's life,” said Berhow's mother, Mami Matasuura, according to the Daily Mail.
“From the time that he withdrew the handgun from his backpack to the time that he was on the ground with a gunshot wound to his head was about 16 seconds,” Sheriff’s Capt. Kent Wegener said at a news conference about the shooting.
In an extended post on Facebook Thursday, Melody Blair Pellegrin a teacher at Saugus High School, described how the tragic event unfolded for her and her class.
“I was on campus with my first-period class, which starts at 6:55 a.m. We were minding our own and discussing the value of life when a student ran into my classroom frantically, shouting, ‘There’s a shooter!’ For a millisecond, I thought this is a crazy joke; this isn't real! But I heard the screams as more desperate students poured into my classroom. This is real,” she wrote.
“I immediately went to the door holding it open to allow as many students and teachers as possible inside. Once the flow of students stopped, I closed the door, made sure it was locked, and the lights were out. Everyone had already run to the opposite side of the classroom. We decided to enter the secure indoor core/common area in my building where other students and teachers were huddled on the floor. Another teacher and I barricaded the core door with desks and tables. Another teacher armed himself with a golf club ready to fight back if needed,” she explained.
“I am so proud of my students. They did exactly as they were trained. They responded immediately. They were quiet. They listened to directions. They were brave. However, I am so sad they even had to experience the trauma of today. It's just not right. I can't get their faces out of my head,” she continued. “I am just so glad students who were with me were safe and out of harm's way. My heart hurts for the innocent lives lost today. I'm sad that my students have to live with this memory. There is a long road of healing ahead of us. It's not OK that this is real.”
Berhow’s neighbor, Ryan McCracken, noted in a Los Angeles Daily News report that he knew him as “just a quiet dude” prior to the shooting and was shaken to hear he was the suspect.
“I only saw him when we were little,” McCracken, 20, who's now a college student, said. “He wouldn’t really come outside. I never saw or heard from him.”
McCracken explained that he and Berhow occasionally played together as children, roughhousing in the yard or playing video games.
“He had this tree you could climb in his backyard,” McCracken said. “I fell out of it one day and got the air knocked out of me. Apparently I fainted. All (Berhow) told me was ‘I thought you were dead.’”
He recalled Berhow’s parents as being “super nice,” noting that the mother was originally from Japan while his father “was really into guns.”
“He’d always be working in the garage on guns,” McCracken said. “He’d be putting bullets together and stuff like that.”
Another longtime neighbor, Andy Anderson, 70, said Berhow’s father died in December 2017 of a heart attack in his mid-50s, and suggested it might have impacted the family significantly.
Berhow’s mother appeared to be keeping him in Boys Scouts and taking him to karate lessons.
Jared Axen, who said he lived next door to Berhow for most of his life, told the Los Angeles Daily News that the suspect was the one who “found (the father’s) body inside the house” when he died in 2017.
“We had some common interests. We both liked air pistols, we were both in Boy Scouts. We would talk about scouting, what he’s doing in school, and his plans for the future. We would sometimes play chess together,” Axen said.
Axen noted that he had no idea that anything was amiss with Berhow.
“I wish he would have said to someone he had been hurting,” Axen said.
Anderson said based on what he saw of Berhow, it seemed as if he wasn’t the kind of person that had much to worry about.
“He was a good-looking, tall kid,” Anderson said. “I thought he had his stuff together, but evidently nobody can tell that by just looking what is in the depths of their mind,” he continued. “I can’t answer this. No one can answer this. God can, but we don’t have direct communication with Him, or her.”