Two weeks later, investigators in Santa Clarita, Calif., are still working to determine what drove a 16-year-old Saugus High School student to open fire on classmates before turning the gun on himself.
By all accounts, Nathanial Berhow was quiet and likable. He ran cross country, was a Boy Scout, and had a girlfriend. But the seemingly untroubled young man acted in grossly troubling ways on Nov. 14 by apparently constructing an unregistered “ghost gun,” concealing the weapon in his backpack, walking to the middle of a courtyard at his suburban Los Angeles high school, opening fire, and even pausing to count his rounds before finally ending 16 seconds of terror and confusion with a shot to his own head. The brief encounter left two students dead, three wounded, and countless others forever affected by what they witnessed.
Berhow left behind no note or manifesto.
“It still remains a mystery why,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said. “You have the image of a loner, someone who is socially awkward, doesn’t get along, some violent tendencies, dark brooding and online strange postings—stuff like that,” none of which described Berhow.
That stereotype is often inaccurate, said psychologist and threat assessment expert Marisa Randazzo, the co-author of current federal guidelines on assessing school shooting threats. She explained that a significant life event, loss, or disappointment can often push shooters over the edge.
“These are acts of suicide as much as homicide,” Randazzo said. Investigators have noted that Berhow’s father died two years ago and the day of the shooting was the boy’s 16th birthday.
Meanwhile, the community grieves and attempts to move forward. Thousands attended a prayer vigil last week. The school will not reopen until Dec. 2, but police allowed students entry last Tuesday to retrieve belongings they left behind the day of the shooting. —L.E.