Two years later, the impact of the 2019 Saugus High School shooting has left an undeniable mark not only on the families of those who were directly affected but on the community at large.
On that Thursday, Santa Clarita came together faster than it ever had to in the face of tragedy that would change the fabric of the community forevermore, in an event that would ensure that three children would never come home.
On the morning of Nov. 14, 2019, 16-year-old Nathaniel Berhow walked into the quad of Saugus High School, pulled a .45-caliber semi-automatic ghost handgun from his backpack, and opened fire, according to officials with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD).
Two students, 15-year-old Gracie Muehlberger and 14-year-old Dominic Blackwell, were killed as a result of the shooting. Three other students were injured before Berhow turned the gun on himself. He died the next day at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital with his mother at his side, according to a statement issued by the LASD at the time.
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A week later, the weapon used in the shooting was determined to be a “ghost gun,” which was assembled from various parts and had no serial number, according to the LASD.
Over the last two years, major strides have been made in memorializing the lives of Gracie and Dominic, but no suicide note has been found, and no concrete motive for Berhow’s decision to injure or kill five other teens on the morning of his 16th birthday has ever been shared with the public.
As the sun set over the Santa Clarita Valley on Sunday, Nov. 17, over 15,000 people gathered at Central Park to hold a vigil, lighting up the sky with blue and silver glow sticks in honor of the victims of the Saugus High shooting.
This would become the largest gathering in the history of the Santa Clarita Valley. Music, prayers, and testimonials from the victims and their families filled the night in a moment of unity
Even under the pressure of a global pandemic, the shutting down of businesses and schools and quarantine, the community still took steps forward in memorializing the tragedy.
The Blackwell and Muehlberger families each stepped up to found non-profit foundations in hopes of providing support for teens and advocating against unsafe gun sales to help prevent any other school shootings.
On top of their non-profit efforts, the families spent months lobbying for the addition of the names of Saugus shooting victims to the signage of Central Park, with “In Memoriam of Gracie Muehlberger and Dominic Blackwell” now engraved on the entrance sign.
On June 4, 2021, the Santa Clarita City Council unveiled two 11-foot obelisks, with murals on each side made from mosaic tiles meant to memorialize 15-year-old Gracie and 14-year-old Dominic.
“We cannot thank you enough. Your words have kept us going. Your strength has given us strength,” Dominic’s father, Frank Blackwell said at the time. “Today as we come together once again as a community united, as friends, family, neighbors and peers, as mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, to begin a new journey of healing, a journey of healthy mourning, shared grieving and quiet comfort of solidarity.”
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“When you look at the obelisks, remember that they are more than just an object,” said Mia Tretta, Dominic’s best friend and survivor of the shooting. “They are a representation of two extraordinary people.”
The Blackwell and Muehlberger families continue to fulfill their visions of making the world a better place in their children’s honor, and their friends, peers, and fellow members fo the community still remember them as wonderful young people, who never got the chance to reach adulthood.
“Our job as parents, until our last breath, is just to make change and have Gracie Strong be the voice to help kids that struggle to speak up,” said Cindy Muehlberger. “It’s so important for kids to speak up when they notice something that’s off, to tell somebody. We’re going to be working on this until our last days.”
For more information on the Gracie Strong Foundation, the Dominic Michael Blackwell Foundation, or their mission to give back to the community, visit their websites.
In the event of an emergency, 911 should always be the first call. Those looking to speak with someone can call:
- 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- 1-800-854-7771 for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health
- 1-866-488-7386 for The Trevor Project for LGBTQ+ youth
- 1-800-784-2433 for the Treatment Advocacy Center
- 661-259-9439 for the SCV Child & Family Center
- 661-296-4444 for the Way Out Recovery SCV
- 661-288-4800 for the Santa Clarita Valley Mental Health Center
- 661- 765-8445 for Insight Treatment Santa Clarita
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