Lockdowns, threat assessments and other preps could not prevent Saugus High School shooting

Published 4:53 AM EST, Sun November 17, 2019
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(CNN) —  

The scenario played out in Kaitlin Holt’s mind many times before a 16-year-old student shot himself after killing two classmates and wounding three others at Saugus High School in Southern California.

That was the point of the school safety plan, lockdown drills and gunshot wound tutorials the 26-year-old choir teacher and other staff at the Santa Clarita school had become familiar with over time.

“Because I had the training, my instincts were good,” said Holt, a teacher since January. “If I hadn’t had that training, I don’t know that I would have walked myself through what I truly had done in that situation. It probably made a big difference.”

And not. Grace Anne Muehlberger, 15, and Dominic Blackwell, 14, died from their wounds. Three other teens were wounded. The gunman, identified as Nathaniel Berhow, died at the hospital after using the last bullet on himself on his 16th birthday

Grace Anne Muehlberger, 15, died of gunshot wounds from the shooting at Saugus High School.
Courtesy Chloe Layne Rogers
Grace Anne Muehlberger, 15, died of gunshot wounds from the shooting at Saugus High School.

“The training helped save some lives, but it didn’t prevent the incident from happening,” Holt said.

Active shooter and lockdown drills have become as familiar in American schools as science and math. But there have been 44 school shootings in 46 weeks this year — almost one per week.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva praised the thousands of students and staff who knew what do when gunfire erupted Thursday morning. They ran to safety or hid. They covered windows, barricaded doors and cared for victims.

“Kudos to all of them for a job well done and, hopefully, that’s a job we never have to do again,” Villanueva said.

The sheriff said Saugus High School had an active shooter drill a few weeks ago. Holt believes it was actually an earthquake drill. A lockdown drill was scheduled for next month, she said. Both agreed students and staff did as they were trained.

The ‘Safe School Plan’ and a familiar scenario

The lockdown protocol in the 245-page Saugus High “Safe School Plan” stresses that teachers ensure all their students are accounted for. All doors must be secured. Students are to be moved away from windows and doors. They should take cover under desks or tables. Teachers should position themselves between the students and doors.

A “Critical Incident Response Plan” worked out with the sheriff’s department refers to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre of 13 people.

“Once inside (gym, office, library, classroom), lock and/or barricade yourself and others inside,” the Saugus High School plan advises staff.

“Use furniture to surround the group with everyone assuming a prone position on the floor away from doors/windows. Once in place…No one leaves! No one enters!”

“We never called them active shooter drills,” Holt said. “At teacher training, maybe we did active shooter training but with the kids, it was just lockdown. Kids would just run to the classroom. You closed the door. You locked it. You turned off the lights. I’m a new teacher so I only had one time that I practiced that. I think they do it every semester.”

Holt said three terrified students — one of them unaware that she had been shot — barged into the classroom where 30 choir students were listening to a recording of a recent performance at a jazz festival.