SANTA CLARITA, Calif. – The 16-year-old suspected of fatally shooting two students and wounding three others at their high school Thursday was an unlikely gunman, classmates and neighbors said.
Following a 16-second burst of gunfire that ended with the suspect shooting himself in the head, the boy was is in critical condition at a local hospital, said Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. No charges have yet been filed against him.
Neighbors and classmates described the boy as pleasant but noted that he was changed by the death of his father two years ago. Classmates have identified the boy to USA TODAY, although law enforcement has yet to name him.
“He doesn’t seem like the kind of kid to do this,” said Brooke Risley, a 16-year-old junior at Saugus High School
Risley said he was a quiet, normal student with whom she had attended the same schools since elementary. He ran track and cross country while his girlfriend, with whom sheriff’s deputies say they are in contact, was on the swim team. He was also a Boy Scout.
Active shooter video to real life:Santa Clarita students took shelter in fear, two months after making video
Joe Fitzpatrick, a senior who helped the teacher in the boy’s physics class, called him a “good, quiet kid” who didn’t miss assignments and did well on tests.
“He just seemed like one of those regular kids,” Fitzpatrick said.
The boy’s father died in December 2017, according to obituary information and a Facebook tribute. Next-door-neighbor Jared Axen, 33, said the teen was reestablishing ties with his father prior to his sudden passing.
“I was surprised how well he took his father‘s death,” said Axen, who told USA TODAY that he played chess and shot air guns with the boy. “I am wondering if two years of hurt led to two years of anger.”
Though the quiet teen was sometimes a little sad, Axen said he didn’t come off as depressed. Although the father had owned guns, Axen said didn’t think the boy viewed them in an unhealthy way.
“A quiet, to-himself kid,” said Ryan McCracken, a 20-year-old next-door neighbor. When McCracken was younger, he said they played together, sometimes in boy’s backyard tree house. “You wouldn’t expect anything like that from him.”
A memorial video of photos that was posted online after the father’s death showed him carrying a rifle or shotgun in numerous hunting photos, either by himself or with other hunters.
On Thursday, police said the boy unloaded all the bullets in a .45-caliber semiautomatic weapon. Authorities have not shared any information about how he obtained the gun.
In California, licensed dealers cannot sell a firearm to anyone under age 21. The boy turned 16 years old on Thursday, according to online records.
Saugus High School shooting:What you need to know about Santa Clarita, California
In the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting, also in California, the 19-year-old bought the firearm he used in Nevada, where the legal age to purchase a gun is 18.
The boy’s family moved to their single-story home on a tree-lined street in Santa Clarita more than 20 years ago, Axen said. He lived with his mother, older sister and father until his death, records show.
Axen said his feelings go out to the boy’s mother, who he said was born in Japan. She has lost both a husband and a son. The sister moved out and went to college after the father’s death, Axen said.
Contributing: Kevin McCoy, USA TODAY; The Associated Press