Larry Everhart was leaving his house to get a coffee in his quiet Santa Clarita neighborhood Thursday morning when he noticed an onslaught of students sprinting toward him.
“I just saw all kinds of kids running up the street screaming, crying (and) yelling,” Everhart told CNN affiliate KCAL/KCBS. “It really saddened my heart. They were saying, ‘Can we go in your house?’ There must have been 20 of them that went in my house.”
The wave of students were fleeing Saugus High School, where a student shot five other students, killing two, before shooting himself, authorities said. But for students, parents and neighbors such as Everhart, the clarity of the police explanation came long after the panic of the Southern California shooting’s immediate aftermath.
Some students frantically fled the school. Others huddled in back rooms away from the door, waiting for signs of safety. Parents and neighbors sprang into action, too. They ushered the teenagers to safety or desperately searched for their loved ones to give a much-needed hug.
In all, it was a familiar scene to Americans in Parkland, Newtown, Santa Fe and other cities across the country that have become one-word symbols for the infiltration of gun violence into schools. But for those in Santa Clarita, it was anything but.
“You see this on TV, what goes on in other states and you’re always thinking it’s a tragedy, it’s sad, but it’s never going to happen here,” said parent Ryan Moreno. “When it happens here, it hits home. You understand and realize what it’s like for all the parents who go through it. It’s not fun, it’s scary, especially if you can’t get a hold of your kid.”
How students reacted
Two freshmen students at Saugus High School, Emily and Riley, said they were outside of the locker room waiting for it to open when they heard the shooting. They ran.
“We heard the gunshots, so we said, ‘lets go, let’s run,’” Emily told CNN affiliate KTLA. “So we ran through the field, ran through the gate because it was open, and we had to go underneath the pipeline, so we literally crawled underneath the pipeline. And there (were) construction workers and they helped us get through the hill into the neighborhood and we just kept walking until we got to the park.”
Riley said they heard five shots in all.
“It was very scary. We heard the one shot and then four after, and we just started running, and all I heard was all these kids running and just screaming and calling their parents and it was very sad,” Riley said.
She said she called her mother as soon as she was safe enough. A group of students who all ran from the school then coordinated what to do next.
“I never looked back,” Emily said. “We just all kept running, we were all helping each other. ‘Do you have a ride? Do you have a ride?’ because it was just a big group of us running through this neighborhood trying to get away.”
At the same time, the two were texting with friends who were still at the school hiding in closets, unsure of what to do. “They were telling us the conditions they were in, they were hiding, they were scared,” Emily told KTLA. “It was scaring us because those are our friends and we didn’t want anything bad to happen to them.”
Ellie Pearlman, a Saugus High School senior, told KCAL she was in her first-period math class when a student sprinted into the class and said “gunshots.” The students and teacher then leaped into action, barricaded the door, turned the lights off and then huddled down in the back of the class, she said.
She texted her parents that she was OK in lockdown. After about an hour, police came and escorted the students out single-file, with their hands up, she said.
Michael Yoo, a 17-year-old senior, told CNN affiliate KCAL that he was in the band room when someone ran in and said there was a shooting.
After that, the band director told them to run into the side rooms. They stayed there for about 30 to 40 minutes until the police came in and said to remain calm.
“It was a lot of panic,” he said. “Even though we’re prepared for it, you can’t really be prepared for it.”
How parents reacted
Several parents were perhaps best prepared for such a moment. Officials said three off-duty law enforcement officers were at the high school dropping off children. The officers administered first aid to the victims until medics showed up, officials said.
Mercedes, the mother of a 16-year-old student at Saugus High School, said she dropped her son off at school at 7:25 a.m., just five minutes before the shooting.
He called her as the shooting happened to tell her that he had a meeting with his coach and they went into a room and locked the door. Then her son called her “frantic, crying, scared.” She told KTLA that her son and his teammates were locked in a classroom with their coach.
“I was just panicked the whole time until I heard from him again. And he said he was OK,” she said.
“It was so scary. Because you don’t know how to feel, you don’t know what to think, you grow super numb inside,” she said. “You’re just in complete shock.”
Ryan Moreno said he was at work when he got a call from his wife about the shooting.
“I assumed she was at Saugus and told her to give me a call back. She gave me a call 10 seconds later saying that she can’t find my daughter. So I jammed up here. Soon as I got here, my wife called me and said she’d found my daughter. Soon as I saw my daughter, I ran up and gave her a hug.”
Hannah de Caussin told CNN she and her 14-year-old daughter Mya Griffin were heading out to the school when her daughter got a call from her friends at school.
“Her friends heard five shots, they were in the gym when they heard the shots. It was in the main quad on campus. Her friends called her right away and said not to go to school and we went to get all of her friends. We were just about to leave to go to school,” de Caussin said.
The shooting occurred about 20 minutes before school started.
“We are all really upset. This is a peaceful neighborhood and this is shocking. The kids are texting all of their friends and trying to figure out who the victims are,” de Caussin said.
De Caussin said she and her daughter went to get her four friends, and they’re currently staying at their home. She added that her home is open and has become a safe place for students running away from the shooting.
“This is a safe area and we are all shocked. I have a handful of kids here, safe, waiting for more info. The school sent a text not to go to school today,” de Caussin said.
Brian Skiba, who lives in Pacific Crest, said he has two children who are students at Saugus High School. They were in the school’s quad when they heard shooting. One child described the scene as “chaos, everybody just running mad,” he said.
“When I got to the Albertsons, there were tons of kids there who had ran all the way from the school,” Skiba told KCAL/KCBS.
CNN’s Gianluca Mezzofiore, Konstantin Toropin, Hollie Silverman and Carma Hassan contributed to this report.