Nathaniel Berhow has been identified as the 16-year-old suspect in a shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, that has left at least two people dead and four people, including the suspect, injured. Berhow, a sophomore at the high school, pulled a gun out of his backpack and opened fire on his classmates on his 16th birthday, police say. After shooting the other students, Berhow shot himself, police said.
Berhow died at the hospital about 3:30 p.m. on Friday, authorities said. He had been hospitalized in “grave condition” after the shooting.
Authorities were alerted to the mass shooting scene by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy and two off-duty police officers who were at the school dropping off their children when they heard gunshots about 7:30 a.m. local time on November 14, 2019.
Video from the chaotic scene showed sheriff’s deputies swarming the scene and multiple victims being removed from the school on stretchers. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office said a 15-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy died as a result of the shooting. Three victims remain hospitalized, including a 14-year-old boy and two girls, ages 15 and 14, who are not critical, the sheriff’s office said.
One of the wounded victims was released from the hospital and the others were in stable condition, authorizes said.
“It’s one of my worst nightmares as a sheriff,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva told reporters about the school shooting in the immediate aftermath. Villanueva called it a “sad day in Saugus, a sad day in Los Angeles County and a sad day in the nation for another tragic shooting at a school.”
Here’s what you need to know about Nathaniel Berhow and the Saugus High School shooting:
1. The Suspect’s Gun Was Empty When It Was Recovered by Authorities
Sheriff Alex Villanueva told the media that when authorities retrieved the gun used in the shooting, a .45 caliber handgun, it was empty.
Officials said that surveillance footage from the shooting showed the suspect remove the gun from his backpack before shooting at five students. The video then shows the suspect shooting himself in the head. The entire shooting, which occurred in a crowded quad area, lasted 16 seconds, authorities said. Students were headed to first-period classes at 7:30 a.m., the sheriff’s office said.
The first arriving officers found six students suffering from gunshot wounds, including the suspect, and all six were rushed to the hospital. Off-duty police officers were the first to respond, authorities said. Detective Daniel Finn, of the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s station, “had just dropped off a family member and was exiting, driving away from the school along the perimeter when he saw all the children running away from the sound of the gunfire. He turned around and became the very first officer on the scene.” Finn was accompanied by Officer Sean Yanez, of the Inglewood Police Department, and Officer Gus Ramirez, from the LAPD. “The three of them were the very first on scene, they entered the school literally within seconds of the shooting,” the sheriff’s office said, followed within a minute by uniformed deputies, at 7:41 a.m.
Police originally believed the gunman fled from the school after the shooting and began a search for him, releasing a description calling him a 15- or 16-year-old Asian male wearing a black hat, a black shirt or sweatshirt and blue jeans. Saugus High School’s student body is made up of 7 percent Asian students.
Erroneous reports suggesting that the shooter had died were later amended to say that he was in critical condition and had been transported to a nearby hospital along with the victims. Authorities said they used surveillance video and interviews with witnesses to determine that the gunman had been one of the original victims and there was no one on the run.
Police obtained a warrant to search a home believed to be connected to the suspect, Sheriff Alex Villanueva told KTLA-TV.
The house, on Sycamore Creek Drive, is located a few miles away from the high school. CBS Los Angeles reports that Berhow lived at the home with his family. Local TV cameras showed sheriff’s deputies as well as ATF and FBI investigator on the scene at the home.
Police spent several hours at the home searching for evidence. Local authorities are being assisted in the investigation by the FBI.
2. Berhow’s Father Died in December 2017 at the Age of 55
Nathan Berhow’s father, Mark, died on December 5, 2017. An online obituary for Mark Berhow says that he was a native of Lancaster, California, 45 miles east of Santa Clarita, and that he died while living in Valencia, California. He was 55 years old. Photos on the obituary page show Mark Berhow with various hunting rifles.
Police have not said who owned the semi-automatic handgun or how Berhow obtained it. Berhow’s friend, identified only as Ryan, told KTLA-TV, “His dad used to make bullets, so I’d assume he had bullets and stuff like that.”
Mark Berhow’s obituary names his wife as Mami Matasuura, and his children as Samantha and Nathaniel. A Facebook tribute to Mark Berhow says that Mami Matasuura had family flying from Japan for the funeral. The Los Angeles Times reports that Berhow died following a heart attack. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office told The New York Post, a “history of chronic alcoholism” contributed to Mark Berhow’s death.
A neighbor, Jared Axen, told KTLA-TV, “From what I understand, the suspect had been the one who had found his father’s body inside the house. You’re always looking, as a community, for ways you can reach out to the person next to you, someone you know is going through something. “What’s hard is that the answer you sometimes get is, ‘Oh, I’m fine.’ You need to be wiling to press them for information.”
Axen added, “I’ve known the whole family my whole life. It’s just – it’s so surprising. You hear about things like this in the news, you don’t expect it to be your own community. He was a very quiet person, a kind person. He was respectful, how he talked about others. It could be just the relationship that he and I had together but, you know, I just wish he was willing to say that he needed some help.”
Online records show that Mark Berhow and his wife began divorce proceedings in August 2016. Matasuura is referred to as the “petitioner” in those documents, meaning she filed for divorce. Records show that Matasuura was also filing for custody. Mark Berhow was also arrested in 2015 in a domestic assault involving his wife, but the charges were later dropped, records show.
3. Berhow’s Girlfriend & Mother Are Being Questioned by Authorities, Who Have Not Yet Determined a Motive for the High School Attack
Nate Berhow’s girlfriend and mother are being questioned by authorities, reports NBC Los Angeles. Police said they have not been called to Berhow’s home recently or had any interactions with him.
Mami Matsuura, Berhow’s mother, told The Daily Mail at the hospital where her son is being treated, “I don’t even know what to do right now, I am just praying for my son’s life.”
A motive for the shooting has not been established. “That’s going to take us a while to go through,” Sheriff Villanueva said of the investigation into what led to the shooting. The sheriff’s office said they have also not determined any connection between Berhow and the victims, other than them being students at Saugus High School together.
Paul Delacourt, assistant director of the Los Angeles FBI field office, told reporters, “At this time we have no additional threats, we have no threats to this or any other school. We will run all the leads to ground, but at this point we have no indication of any motivation or ideology. It’s early on in this investigation.”
Delacourt later added, “We have no reason to believe that the subject was acting on behalf of any other group or any ideology. I have no reason to believe there is any threat or any co-conspirators at this time.”
Speaking to Fox Los Angeles, a student named Maxwell said that Berhow hadn’t been “acting like himself” in the days leading up to the shooting. Maxwell said, “As far as I could tell from the recent days that I’ve seen him, he was looking kind of down and I guess just kind of depressed about something. I didn’t really ask him what it was that he was depressed about, but from what I could tell he was different. He wasn’t acting like himself.”
Another friend, Ruan, told KTLA-TV he last saw him six years ago, “Over the years we stopped talking, there was a disconnect (between us). He was doing his own thing. It’s a shock to all of us.”
4. Berhow Was a Track Athlete at Saugus High School & Was in the Cub Scouts & Boy Scouts
Nathaniel Berhow was listed as taking part in a track meet in Santa Clarita where he represented Saugus High School. The meet was held in Central Park on September 19. Two months later Central Park was the location of the reunification point between parents and students following the Saugus High School shooting. A vigil for the victims of the shooting will be held at Central Park on November 17 at 7 p.m. local time.
The Los Angeles Times cited friends in referring to the suspect as a “quiet kid.”
He was in the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts, according to his father’s obituary and posts on social media by those in his Boy Scout troop.
Berhow’s neighbor, Jared Axen, told KTLA-TV, “I can’t think of any red flags in our conversation, when he would think of handling his hurt in this manner. He grew up with his father who was a hunter, and this was a normal activity for him. He grew up around firearms, it wasn’t a mystery, he knew how to use it and understood how it worked, he was responsible. He came off as a very responsible person.”
Axen added, “On the outside they were very loving, (his mother) worked hard to make sure the children had a future. At the same time, sometimes you don’t realize how much people love you until you go through these changes. He is a quiet person, a kind person, he was respectful how he talked to others. I wish I could just hug him, there is nothing I would really be able to say. … I wish I could just give him a hug.”
Aidan Soto, a fellow Boy Scout and runner, told the Los Angeles Times, “I’m bewildered and looking for answers — the question as to why all this would happen. So many questions no one has the answers to.”
5. An Instagram Account With a Message ‘Saugus Have Fun at School Tomorrow’ Is Being Investigated by Authorities, but Instagram Said It Didn’t Belong to the Shooter
Following the shooting, Twitter users began highlighting an Instagram account named Nibba_Leader. The bio on that page read, “Saugus have fun at school tomorrow.” The account, which has since been deleted or taken down by Instagram, did not have any posts or photos that connected to Nathaniel Berhow. It appeared to have been created about a week ago and posted only memes and joke videos. But comments by the sheriff’s office late Thursday added to the confusion about whether it belonged to the shooter.
Sheriff’s Captain Kent Wegener told reporters he wanted to “acknowledge a posting on the bio of what we believe to be the subject’s Instagram account. It says underneath his pseudonym, ‘Saugus have fun at school tomorrow.’ I can confirm that was posted on his account and I can also confirm that it has been changed since this incident, which means that there is someone else who has access to this account, be it a hacker or be it a friendly who has his password. So that was posted at one point and we are aware of it and we are researching the source, when it was placed and when it was taken down.”
But Instagram told BuzzFeed News’ Jane Lytvynenko the account did not belong to the shooter. “We disabled the account for violating our policies. We can confirm it did not belong to the shooter,” Instagram said in a statement to the BuzzFeed reporter.
Signs pointed toward it being a troll attempt by someone not associated with the gunman. The account claimed to be trying to get “clout” by pretending to be the shooter. After the shooting, the bio on the account was changed to say, “THE #1 worst meme account on Instagram,” and a photo of a clown face was uploaded.
Wegener told the media following the shooting, “I can tell you that we have checked for recent threats involving Saugus High School. We identified two which were both investigated and had no nexus to this subject.”
While a Saugus student told CBS Los Angeles he reported that Nibba_Leader account to students. That student said, “We found an Instagram account, like in their bio, it said ‘Saugus have fun at school tomorrow,’ so I got like speechless and I didn’t know what to do, so I reported it to police.”
Santa Clarita is a city of about 200,000 located about 40 miles away from downtown Los Angeles. About 2,400 students attended Saugus High School, located at 21900 Centurion Way. The school is part of the William S. Hart Union High School District.
The school’s Wikipedia page says that the campus has been used for filming for multiple TV shows and movies. That page also says that the school boasts numerous actors and celebrities among its alumni.
According to the sheriff’s office, “ALL Hart District Schools will be closed Friday, Nov. 15, out of respect for victims, families and to allow students, staff to process feelings. District counselors will be available tonight 5-7 p.m. at Santa Clarita Activities Center, 20880 Centre Pointe Pkwy.”
Saugus High School is expected to be a crime scene for several days.