SANTA CLARITA, California — Terrified students barricaded themselves inside classrooms, some arming themselves with scissors on hand, as gunshots rang out at a high school near Los Angeles on Thursday morning.
"A lot of people grabbed scissors, just to prepare in case we had to fight back," Ember Miller, a student at Saugus High School, told the local NBC affiliate.
Other students, many of whom had just arrived on campus to start their school day, said they scrambled before they could even confirm that the loud bangs echoing through the school were coming from a gun.
Abandoned bags and backpacks could be seen on the ground around the high school in aerial footage from local stations, belongings left behind in the rush of students trying to escape.
Two students were killed and three others were injured after a 16-year-old shooter opened fire in the quad at Saugus High School, authorities said. The shooter, identified by public records and local news reports as Nathaniel Berhow, pulled the handgun from his backpack, shot five students, and then shot himself in the head with the last bullet in the weapon.
Berhow, who turned 16 on Thursday, died Friday afternoon while being treated at the hospital, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
"We heard a shot and at first we thought maybe someone dropped something heavy or a balloon popped," a student who identified herself only as Lauren told NBC. "We heard three more and that's when finally our brain finally went out of shock and allowed us to run, and we realized we have to get out."
Like schools across the country, Saugus High School students take part in active shooter drills where they are taught to turn off the lights in their classrooms, barricade doors, and try to protect themselves from threats. Students inside classrooms on Thursday employed some of the same survival tactics used by others who have faced campus shooters, such as stacking chairs against doors.
But because most classes at the school had not yet started when gunfire rang out, many of the students were gathered outside and quickly ran from the quad looking for a place to shelter.
In the panicked run, many of the students fell as they rushed looking for a safe place.
Alexander Skiba, a 15-year-old first-year student, was hanging out near the band room when he heard five loud bangs.
"I saw this huge horde of people coming to the exit and just running," he told BuzzFeed News. "I saw people falling down and I just went to help them get up. I picked them up and told them to go."
Then, after helping several other students get out of there, Skiba ran.
"I just booked it," he said.
He ran all the way to a nearby Albertson's where about 15 to 20 other students had ended up. He called his dad, Brian, as he fled.
"I could hear everybody screaming in the background," Brian Skiba said.
Skiba picked up Alexander from the store, then returned to the school to pick up his 16-year-old daughter, who was hiding in the school's band room.
Kaitlin Holt, a choir teacher, told the local ABC affiliate that students ran into her classroom as shots rang out on campus. One of them was a girl who appeared to have been shot on the side of her abdomen and shoulder.
"She was hanging outside my room when everything happened and they ran into the class," Holt said. "She was really strong and she was great. She was joking with me saying, 'I'm going to be homeschooled after this.'"
Eddie Mendoza, a 17-year-old senior, told BuzzFeed News that Holt barricaded the door and grabbed a first aid kit to help the wounded student.
"She immediately jumped into action," he said.
Other students, not knowing exactly what to expect, armed themselves.
"All of a sudden my best friend, Ellie, taps me on the shoulder and she's like, 'We need to get down,'" Miller told NBC. "The lights turn off and I'm just sitting there thinking, Oh my god, this is happening."
Miller said after moving large tables and chairs to barricade the door, some students grabbed scissors in case there was an encounter with the shooter.
"I should not have to go to school and fear for my life," she said. "It breaks my heart to know more students have to die before we realize this is an issue."
While barricaded inside classrooms, students tried to stay as quiet as possible, hoping not to attract the attention of the shooter.
Julius Castillo, 16, was hiding in the music library inside the band room with about 30 other students. They were preparing for the worst when a cellphone that was left out on a music stand started to ring.
It went off three times, rattling the students.
"Everyone was crying," Castillo said, adding that they were worried the phone would catch the shooter's attention.
If the shooter did get in somehow, Castillo thought to himself, he would stand up and defend his friends.
"I thought to myself, Calm down, don't panic," he said.
Helen Rieckhoff, a 15-year-old sophomore, was in the quad when the shooting broke out.
“I first heard one shot and then everybody went dead silent,” Rieckhoff told BuzzFeed News, adding that, at that time of day, the quad is usually full of students hanging out.
“It got really quiet and then we heard three more shots in a row,” she said. “It was just a giant bang. It echoed.”
She was wearing Birkenstock sandals, but she kicked them off her feet and started running for cover by the time the third shot rang out. The first classroom door she tried was locked, but she and her friends quickly found another room farther away and ran inside.
They locked the doors, turned out the lights, pulled down the blinds, and waited.
“We all stood there — there was a lot of heavy breathing and silent crying."