In the wake of the recent school shooting that took the innocent lives of two Saugus High School students and injured three others, “Saugus Strong” were the words of encouragement echoing throughout the Santa Clarita community as they began to take their first steps towards healing.
A vigil was held Sunday night to honor the lives of 15-year-old Gracie Anne Muehlberger and 14-year-old Dominic Michael Blackwell, who lost their lives when a Saugus classmate opened gunfire. The 16-year-old gunman later turned the gun on himself and died at the hospital.
“Gorgeous, radiant, angelic, caring, intelligent and energetic,” were the words Riley Muehlberger used to describe his younger sister between tears.
Over 10,000 people came out to show the mourning community their support bearing candles, flowers and posters for the growing memorials found on campus grounds and the neighboring Central Park.
“My favorite thing about you, Gracie, was how funny you were,” Muehlberger said. “You would always be able to put a smile on my face and that’s one of the many things I’ll miss the most.”
Gracie’s father wrote a letter to be read at the vigil on behalf of the Muehlberger family.
He said that the last video they have of their daughter comes from their doorbell camera as she left home for school that day.
“We can see a beautiful, confident, young woman on the rise. She left with a pep in her stride like she knew where she wanted to go,” her father wrote. “You could tell that this day was special and was going to be different.”
The Muehlberger family spoke of their last moments with Gracie– last hugs, last laughs, last kisses goodnight.
“Nobody could have imagined what would unfold that Thursday morning at 7:38 a.m., that two innocent and precious souls and the lives of so many would be rocked forever,” Gracie’s father wrote.
Dominic Blackwell was a part of the Saugus ROTC program. His friends and family remember him for his sense of humor and the lasting impression he left on everyone he met.
“It will be a long, painful walk to class without him on December 2nd,” Dominic’s ROTC friend, Emma, said. “Nothing can replace his loss and no words can heal our hearts, but we can honor him by remembering him.”
Blackwell’s aunt, Angie Davidson, spoke on the behalf of their heartbroken family.
“Our family will never get Dominic back and will never see his smile or hear his laughter or hold him ever again,” Davidson said.
Blackwell left behind three brothers.
“One that will always remember memories, one that will always remember his ‘Dommie’ and one that will only know him through us and the stories we are able to share,” Davidson said.
The Muehlberger and Blackwell families are not the only ones left broken by this tragedy.There is a campus of students feeling overwhelmed by the idea of having to return to school in the coming weeks.
“This vigil is part of the healing process,” Farah Mastufa said, a junior at Saugus High School. “But I’m also a little relieved we’re getting time to work through this together.”
Farah’s younger sister is currently in the eighth grade, just less than a year away from joining her sister at Saugus.
“Obviously, I feel a little less safe with everything that’s been going on,” Kenzy Mastufa said. “I’m conflicted because this is happening a lot just over and over in different cities.”
According to the FBI, there have been 277 active shooter incidents in the United States from 2000 to 2018.
There have been roughly 2,400 causalities and fatalities, not including the shooter.
Of those active shooter incidents, 57 were carried out in school settings.
“One of my teachers said, ‘It’s not a matter of if anymore, it’s a matter of when,’” Kenzy Mastufa said. “Then it happened, it happened to us.”
Kenzy Mastufa voices a tragic reality that all students face as they step onto their school campus.
“You have no idea what it’s like until you’ve actually been a part of it and experienced it,” Kenzy Mastufa said. “You know it’s scary, you know it’s bad, but once you’re a part of it, it’s way worst than you can imagine.”
Saugus High School junior Isabella Perez shared her feeling of shock.
“It was unexpected, you never think it’s going to happen to you,” Perez said. “It’s crazy how many people are coming together, it kinda makes me feel a lot safer.”
Sixty miles away, the effects of the Saugus High School shooting are being felt here at the University of La Verne.
Junior kinesiology major and football player Amir Bishop is an alumnus of Saugus and still holds the blue and silver colors of his alma mater close to his heart.
“I was devastated,” Bishop said about hearing the news of the shooting. “I feel violated that something like this happened at my home.”
Bishop was unable to attend the vigil but his family, some of whom currently attend Saugus, and close friends went in his place to support the community.
“Change is definitely something in need,” Bishop said. “Metal detectors at each entrance would be an ideal idea to install there (at Saugus).”
Gun violence is a growing epidemic and the topic of gun control has, subsequently, become a controversial subject in politics.
There is no one-fix solution, but students are doing what they can towards demanding gun law reformation.
Only one week has passed since the shooting and Saugus students have wasted no time to reach out to California elected officials.
“I’m writing to representatives about gun control and mental health,” Farah Mastufa said. “I hope more people will write and these representatives will take us more seriously and speak up for us more.”
The Santa Clarita community has been shaken to its core by the tragedies of this event, but are attempting to move forward.
Regularly scheduled classes at Saugus High School will not resume until after the Thanksgiving break on Dec. 2 as a way for these students to have time to process how they are feeling.
Jaycie Thierry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.