SPHS Students Grapple With Saugus Shooting

SPHS freshmen (from left) Lauren DuBria, Jayden Tran, Alexa Morales, Sam Grotenstein and London Taylor gather after school outside the campus on Wednesday. Photo by Skye Hannah

Raindrops fell lightly from a stone gray sky as South Pasadena High School students finished their classes Wednesday, less than a week after a student at Saugus High, 35 miles to the northwest in Santa Clarita, had opened fire on classmates, killing two and injuring three before killing himself.

The nation’s latest episode of tragic gun violence at a school was still fresh on the minds of some South Pas students interviewed by the Review, and it produced a range of reactions — from anger and sadness over the tragedy to fear for their own safety to frustration and resignation that, at least to some classmates, such horrors are the new normal and hardly register emotionally anymore.

A handful of students interviewed had not even heard of the Saugus tragedy.

“After I heard the news, the next day I did not want to show up for school,” said freshman Jayden Tran.

On this Wednesday, Tran and fellow freshman Sam Grotenstein had gathered with friends outside South Pas High’s front portico before heading to hang out at a local bakery.  At the front of Tran’s mind was a friend who attends Saugus, a fellow member of the state YMCA Youth and Government program, and another who was close to one of the victims who died. 

“I had this sense of worry in my heart,’’ Tran recalled. “I have these feelings and sometimes when I hear about the news and it’s so consistent, I get really scared and paranoid. We have our protections. Saugus had their protections. Columbine had their protections.”

Tran and Grotenstein also shared a feeling that the trauma of the nearby shooting was dismissed by some fellow students.

“What really hits me the most is that people have already forgotten Saugus happened,” said Grotenstein. “It’s so ingrained in our pop culture that school shootings are just a thing that has to happen. It’s, ‘Oh, only one or two people died, it’s not that big of a deal.’ It’s just crazy to think that this life-changing event is something that is just something forgotten about instantly because no one responded to it outside of ‘thoughts and prayers.’ ”

Grotenstein shared doubts that there would be any federal response to the shooting, although both he and Tran felt SPHS was doing its best to support the student body with a police officer on campus, active-shooter drills and educational videos on what to do in the event of an active-shooter situation.

“Honestly, I don’t know how many more school shootings have to happen for something to change,” said Grotenstein. “I think school administrators are doing all they can.”

Freshmen James Wu and Lara Park said they were aware of the shooting and recalled watching a video on active-shooting situations early in the school year. 

As a peer mediator at the school, Wu works one-on-one with fellow students to ask them what’s on their minds when they’re troubled and how he can possibly help.

“I help kids that are in need with mental issues,” said Wu. “We try to focus on that specifically, especially since the recent shooting, and we just try to target people who we think are in need.”

Park remembers her mother telling her about Saugus, but she didn’t feel a sense of concern in South Pasadena.

“I’ve never seen that before anywhere so I don’t really feel that worried about it here,” said Park. “If it was in L.A. I would be, but I feel like in here it’s more safe.”

Junior Radja Putro wasn’t aware of the events at Saugus High and expressed a feeling of security at SPHS. 

“I haven’t heard about it,” said Putro. “I feel safe at this school.”

Juniors Izzy Hurtado and Lara Bircan heard of the shooting but also felt a relative sense of safety at SPHS.

“I just think we shouldn’t have to worry about that,” said Hurtado. “It’s just like worrying about something in school and we shouldn’t have to. … I feel like this is South Pas and it doesn’t really happen here.”

“I feel like no one would expect it to happen, which makes it worse almost,” added Bircan.

Last week’s shootings at Saugus High in Santa Clarita were a topic of conversation this week at South Pasadena High School (above). Photo by Skye Hannah

As for the cause behind acts of violence at school, Tran felt it came from lack of support at home and problems within families, while Grotenstein cited a possible mix of academic stress and adolescent anger, coupled with easy access to weapons.

“Change needs to happen,” said Tran. 

“I think we just need to bask in the discomfort,” said Grotenstein. “I think before people can actively go out and say, ‘I want to make a change,’ people have to realize why a change is important.”

Grotenstein felt that the difficulty of finding solutions in the mainstream cultural conversation came down to a “strange political philosophy” of looking no deeper than “saying school shootings is the problem.”

“I feel like there’s almost an acceptance now that school shootings are inevitable, so I think we’re adapting around that,” said Grotenstein. “I don’t think we’ve reached that point yet. I don’t think we’re so far gone that school shootings are something we have to accept in our education system.”

However, he said, the events at Saugus High had shaken that feeling.

“With this recent shooting, I really have to call that belief into question because everyone’s just living their lives, doing what they would have been doing three or four weeks ago,” said Grotenstein. “There are families who are dealing with traumatized children, families who have lost their children, and they’re just another number, they’re just another statistic because we can’t get our act together.”

Above all else, Tran encouraged his classmates to start talking about the issue and to support one another. 

“We hear about this news so often that we have to stick together,” said Tran. “As the class of 2023, we have to stick together.”