When sophomore Elijah Mims, 15, performed in an active shooter training video for a class project earlier this school year, the Santa Clarita native never thought he’d actually be running for his life.
“We were just preparing for the worst, but we never thought anything would occur in a suburb like Santa Clarita. It’s such a lovely place,” Mims told USA TODAY in a phone interview.
In the instructional video, Mims played the role of a “person who was hiding,” later demonstrating to students how they could safely escape an active shooter situation. On Thursday, Mims found himself a few feet away from an armed classmate. He sprinted into an empty classroom, where he huddled quietly with dozens of other students until police entered the room.
“The video helped me out since I reacted right away and was able to do what I needed,” Mims said.
The school shooting that killed two and injured at least three people at Saugus High School Thursday morning is now raising questions about school security measures in Los Angeles County.
The suspected shooter, a 16-year-old boy, carried a handgun onto campus in his backpack Thursday morning, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a press conference. The suspect pulled out the gun, shot five people and then shot himself in the head.
The shooting happened shortly before 8 a.m. at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, about 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles, the sheriff’s office said. Police responded to the scene within two minutes of receiving the first 911 call.
Santa Clarita school:2 dead after male student shoots 5
According to preliminary information, two threats had recently been made against the school, but authorities deemed that they “had no nexis to this subject,” Kent Wegener, chief of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau, said Thursday.
Some students and parents have begun calling for the school to implement metal detectors. “I grew up in a community where you didn’t have metal detectors, but times have changed,” school district supervisor Kathryn Ann Barger told ABC. Barger said the Los Angeles Unified School District already employs metal detectors.
What safety measures were in place?
According to the Hart School District website, each school campus is fenced and staffed with a team of campus supervisors. The gates to the campuses are locked during instructional time and typically only unlocked when students are leaving campus for lunch or leaving school at the end of the day. Visitors are directed to the office to check-in, the website says.
Each school is also equipped with a School Resource Officer, who is expected to form relationships with students, provide intervention to assist students, and assist staff with difficult situations.
Every school is required to schedule a minimum of two lockdown drills per year, along with an annual earthquake drill and a minimum of two fire drills. The district website also notes that the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s Department uses school campuses to stage yearly active shooter trainings for their deputies.
If students notice suspicious activity, they can report is using the school’s “Text-a-Tip” hotline. The district also maintains a team of mental health professionals, as well as a Threat Assessment Team.
Each school also has a “Safe Schools Ambassador” — a student trained to work within their peer groups to prevent bullying, exclusion, teasing, and violence on campus, the district website says. There are nearly 1,500 students ambassadors across the district, which serves nearly 23,000 students.
The school district partners with local agencies to coordinate response efforts. Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby said his department routinely trains for active shooter situations. Patrick Moody, spokesperson for Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, which received several of Thursday’s injured, said the hospital trains for triage situations year-round.
Responding to an active shooter
A Saugus High School band director hid students inside the band room once it became clear that an active shooter was outside.
George Atilano, a parent who lives in Santa Clarita, California, said his trombonist daughter Raquel, 14, told him band practice had just begun when students started rushing into the classroom saying there was a shooter.
“They noticed a lot of kids run into the band room,” he said as he stood near the school.
He said the band director went outside to confirm that there was indeed a shooter then came back in and started finding places where students could be kept out of sight, including an office and library.
“He rounded kids up and shoved them in there,” Atilano said.
He received a text from his daughter saying that they were trapped in the band room. He said he called the sheriff’s department. He said the dispatcher asked him where they can find his daughter and the others, about 50 kids in all. They were rescued after about 20 minutes.
He said his daughter told him that once they had transferred to the choir room she saw a female student who had been shot. He said she appeared to been shot in the torso and appeared to be in shock.
He said the crisis brought out a strong mix of emotions for him and his family — “scared, shaken, horrified” and “helpless.”
He was in work mode and suddenly had to shift to being a parent. “All these emotions go through you,” he said.
Contributing: Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY.