Students and teachers spoke of how they barricaded themselves in classrooms amid chaotic scenes, carrying out an active shooter drill that many schools have implemented in recent years following deadly attacks around the country.
What do we know about the shooting?
It was first reported at 07:38 local time (15:38 GMT) on Thursday, LA county sheriff Alex Villanueva said, adding that police were at the scene within two minutes.
The suspect was standing in the school courtyard when he took a .45-calibre semi-automatic pistol from his backpack and opened fire for about 16 seconds before turning the gun on himself, Sheriff’s Captain Kent Wegener said.
“He just fires from where he is. He doesn’t chase anybody. He doesn’t move,” Capt Wegener said.
Students barricaded themselves in classrooms under an active shooter drill for more than an hour as police tried to determine if the gunman was still at large.
Officers found six people suffering from gunshot wounds and transferred them to local hospitals. The suspect was later identified as one of those injured.
What do we know of the victims?
The names of those who died have not yet been released. They were a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy.
The three injured, also as-yet unnamed, were two girls, aged 14 and 15, and a 14-year-old boy. They are all in a stable condition.
All attended Saugus High School.
The suspect had no known connection to the victims, Capt Wegener said.
What has been revealed about the gunman?
The attack came on the suspect’s 16th birthday. The motive for the attack is unknown.
The FBI said it appeared he had acted alone and was not affiliated with any particular group or ideology.
The Associated Press quoted a fellow student, Brooke Risley, as saying the suspect was introverted but “naturally smart”, adding that he had a girlfriend and was a boy scout.
AP said the boy lived locally in a modest home, and that his father died two years ago. A neighbour told Reuters the boy had struggled with his father’s death.
Investigators have searched the home and interviewed the boy’s mother and girlfriend.
There were no initial indications that he had been bullied at school.
There were reports of an Instagram posting saying “Saugus have fun at school tomorrow”, but it was later revealed the account was not owned by the suspect.
How did students and parents react?
One student told NBC she was doing her homework when people started running. “I was really, really scared. I was shaking,” she said.
Another student, named as Azalea, told CBS she and her classmates had barricaded the classroom door with chairs. “It was just really scary, having everybody panic and call their parents, saying they love you.”
Teacher Katie Holt told NBC she was huddled in her office with 30 students when a girl ran in saying she had been shot. Ms Holt dressed the injuries as best she could her with her gunshot-wound kit, with a fellow student applying pressure.
There were emotional reunions once the lockdown was lifted.
Jeff Turner, 58, told the New York Times he found his daughter, Micah, upset and crying.
“She was saying, ‘I feel guilty that I didn’t stay and help the people who were shot,'” he said. “And that was the thing that made me break down in tears.”
How much security is there at Saugus?
The school has an unarmed sheriff’s deputy and nine “campus supervisors” with guard training, district administrator Collyn Nielson told Associated Press.
There are a number of security cameras but no metal detectors, and lockdown drills are held three times a year.
How have officials responded?
News of the attack emerged during a Senate debate on gun control legislation. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, was arguing for gun control when he was given a note with the news.
“We are complicit if we fail to act,” he said. “It is not just a political responsibility, it is a moral imperative.”
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said in a statement that his department took school shootings “very seriously” and would help the authorities “develop trainings and resources to improve response capabilities and better protect soft targets”.
Gun control, and the right to bear arms, is a divisive political issue in the US. About 40% of Americans say they own a gun or live in a household with one, according to a 2017 survey, and the rate of murder or manslaughter by firearm in the country is the highest in the developed world.
According to the Washington Post, more than 230,000 young people in the US have experienced gun violence at school since the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado in 1999.
In the last three weeks US authorities have arrested at least 28 people accused of threatening acts of mass violence. What’s behind this surge and could they all be convicted?
The threats ranged from posts on social media and video gaming sites to verbal comments to colleagues and friends. In at least two cases, suspects sent text messages to ex-partners. Hoards of weapons were also found in some cases.
The FBI won’t say what is behind the steep bump in apprehensions, some carried out by that agency, others by local police. It’s not clear if it marks a growth in threats or simply a rise in awareness and tip-offs.
But former FBI boss Andrew McCabe said on Friday there was undoubtedly a “renewed awareness” focused on the sort of threats that a few months ago might have been ignored by investigators mindful of the right to free speech as enshrined in the US Constitution.
The first amendment offers broad protection of free speech, even if that speech is racist or of a violent nature. Prosecutions in the US are further complicated by the second amendment which safeguards the right to bear arms.
So what can be done to stop a shooter before they strike?
When a threat becomes a crime
More than two dozen people are reported to have been arrested for making threats to carry out mass violence since the 3 August shooting in El Paso.
Many of the alleged plots foiled by US law enforcement included plans to target specific minority groups. But without any federal penalties in place for acts of domestic terrorism – like those that exist for international terrorism – the charges varied – false threats, terrorist threats, illegal possession of weapons and disorderly conduct.
It’s unclear how these various cases will fare at trial. For charges asserting threats of violence, the threats must be highly specific, accompanied by evidence of imminent danger.
“The whole test is whether something is a clear or present danger,” says Martin Stolar, a civil rights lawyer based in New York. You must be expressing a clear intention to commit a crime, he continued, and close to committing it.
A case in Vermont shows how tricky it can be to prosecute. Jack Sawyer, 18, was arrested in 2018 after he threatened to cause mass casualties at his former high school. A friend had informed police, who searched his car and found a 31-page diary entitled Journal of an Active Shooter.
The state’s attorney charged Mr Sawyer with four felonies – two counts of attempted aggravated murder, and one count each of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, among the most serious charges in Vermont.
But within months, all four felony charges were dropped. Mr Sawyer walked free in April 2018 and has now been adjudicated as a youthful offender for carrying a dangerous weapon. He will remain under state supervision until he turns 22.
The court found that he had stated his intentions to commit harm but no action followed, says Vermont-based lawyer David Sleigh. “Simply contemplating a crime is not a crime in Vermont.”
All states have laws that bar violent threats. Threats made by US mail or interstate commerce, for example, are considered criminal. But those threats generally must include the incitement or solicitation of specific violent acts to be considered criminal.
“You don’t criticise someone for speaking, you criticise people for picking up a gun,” says Mr Stolar. “When speech crosses the line.”
Without a designated target, an immediate timeline, or clear preparations to commit assault, violent words may be protected speech.
There must be “action and imminent danger,” Mr Sleigh says. “As opposed to trying to criminalise evil or unpalatable thinking.”
What happens in other countries?
In terms of free speech protections, the US is singular.
“In some countries, they’ve criminalised certain types of hate speech that are protected here,” says Mary McCord, a former senior national security prosecutor, now legal director at Georgetown University’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.
“They have a tool available in those countries to prevent some of the type of speech that can be used to recruit new adherents to an ideology.”
What about other countries?
In the UK, for example, an expression of hatred related to a victim’s race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal.
In Canada, too, there are more restrictions on free speech than in the US. The federal criminal code includes multiple provisions barring hate speech, including those that impose criminal sanctions against anyone who willfully incites hatred in public against an identifiable group, including those distinguished by race, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability.
Such sensitivities “present barriers,” Ms McCord says, “to effectively combat the spread of violent ideologies.”
But in the US, she continues, “we respect the first amendment.”
Is an arsenal legal?
The implications of the first amendment are complicated by the second, which enshrines the right to gun ownership.
In many of the recent arrests, suspects were found in possession of firearms and other weapons. But even where suspects were found with a hoard of firearms – like 18-year-old Justin Olsen, who was found with more than a dozen rifles and 10,000 rounds of ammunition – the cache of weapons uncovered were legally acquired, and do not provide grounds to prosecute.
“If a person’s not prohibited for having a weapon, he could have a bunch of weapons, he could not be breaking any laws at all,” says Ms McCord.
She has drafted a proposal to criminalise the stockpiling of weapons for use in a domestic attack.
“That would enable the government to prove his intent,” says Ms McCord, giving law enforcement an additional tool to thwart potential offenders before they act. Without standing law specifically addressing domestic terrorism, “law enforcement has to find something to charge [suspects] with because there’s nothing that directly applies. They’re cobbling things together to charge.”
Ms McCord is among a growing number of those within the intelligence community calling for domestic terrorism to be classified as a federal crime, giving law enforcement expanded preventative powers – similar to those that apply to international terrorist groups.
But some civil rights advocates and attorneys balk at giving the US government any more power. They argue that existing laws, when enforced, are sufficient.
“I think the rush to try to expand police authority into regulating rights of free speech or rights to gun ownership should be taken very, very carefully,” Mr Sleigh says.
Does the combination of the first and second amendment create a volatility that does not exist elsewhere, he asks.
“I suspect it does. But it’s been part of our national project to embrace that liberty and freedom, knowing that it comes with risk.”
Two mass shootings within 24 hours, leaving 31 people dead, has once again brought the spotlight on gun ownership in the United States.
An attack on a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas on Saturday left 20 dead, while nine died in a shooting in Dayton, Ohio on Sunday.
But where does America stand on the right to bear arms and gun control?
What do young people think about gun control?
When looking at the period before the Parkland school shooting in 2018, it is interesting to track how young people have felt about gun control.
Support for gun control over the protection of gun rights in America is highest among 18 to 29-year-olds, according to a study by the Pew Research Centre, with a spike after the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016. The overall trend though suggests a slight decrease in support for gun control over gun rights since 2000.
Pew found that one third of over-50s said they owned a gun. The rate of gun ownership was lower for younger adults – about 28%. White men are especially likely to own a gun.
How does the US compare with other countries?
About 40% of Americans say they own a gun or live in a household with one, according to a 2017 survey, and the rate of murder or manslaughter by firearm is the highest in the developed world. There were almost 11,000 deaths as a result of murder or manslaughter involving a firearm in 2017.
Homicides are taken here to include murder and manslaughter. The FBI separates statistics for what it calls justifiable homicide, which includes the killing of a criminal by a police officer or private citizen in certain circumstances, which are not included.
In about 13% of cases, the FBI does not have data on the weapon used. By removing these cases from the overall total of gun deaths in the US, the proportion of gun-related killings rises to 73% of homicides.
Who owns the world’s guns?
While it is difficult to know exactly how many guns civilians own around the world, by every estimate the US with more than 390 million is far out in front.
Switzerland and Finland are two of the European countries with the most guns per person – they both have compulsory military service for all men over the age of 18. The Finnish interior ministry says about 60% of gun permits are granted for hunting – a popular pastime in Finland. Cyprus and Yemen also have military service.
How do US gun deaths break down?
There have been more than 110 mass shootings in the US since 1982, according to investigative magazine Mother Jones.
Up until 2012, a mass shooting was defined as when an attacker had killed four or more victims in an indiscriminate rampage – and since 2013 the figures include attacks with three or more victims. The shootings do not include killings related to other crimes such as armed robbery or gang violence.
The overall number of people killed in mass shootings each year represents only a tiny percentage of the total number.
Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show there were a total of more than 38,600 deaths from guns in 2016 – of which more than 22,900 were suicides. Suicide by firearm accounts for almost half of all suicides in the US, according to the CDC.
A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found there was a strong relationship between higher levels of gun ownership in a state and higher firearm suicide rates for both men and women.
Attacks in US become deadlier
The Las Vegas attack in 2017 was the worst in recent US history – and eight of the shootings with the highest number of casualties happened within the past 10 years.
What types of guns kill Americans?
Military-style assault-style weapons have been blamed for some of the major mass shootings such as the attack in an Orlando nightclub and at the Sandy Hook School in Connecticut.
Dozens of rifles were recovered from the scene of the Las Vegas shooting, police reported.
A few US states have banned assault-style weapons, which were totally restricted for a decade until 2004.
However most murders caused by guns involve handguns, according to FBI data.
How much do guns cost to buy?
For those from countries where guns are not widely owned, it can be a surprise to discover that they are relatively cheap to purchase in the US.
Among the arsenal of weapons recovered from the hotel room of Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock were handguns, which can cost from as little $200 (£151) – comparable to a Chromebook laptop.
Assault-style rifles, also recovered from Paddock’s room, can cost from around $1,500 (£1,132).
In addition to the 23 weapons at the hotel, a further 19 were recovered from Paddock’s home. It is estimated that he may have spent more than $70,000 (£52,800) on firearms and accessories such as tripods, scopes, ammunition and cartridges.
Who supports gun control?
US public opinion on the banning of handguns has changed dramatically over the last 60 years. Support has shifted over time and now a significant majority opposes a ban on handguns, according to polling by Gallup.
But a majority of Americans say they are dissatisfied with US gun laws and policies, and most of those who are unhappy want stricter legislation.
Some states have taken steps to ban or strictly regulate ownership of assault weapons. Laws vary by state but California, for example, has banned around 75 types and models of assault weapon.
Some controls are widely supported by people across the political divide – such as restricting the sale of guns to people who are mentally ill, or on “watch” lists.
But Republicans and Democrats are much more divided over other policy proposals, such as whether to allow ordinary citizens increased rights to carry concealed weapons – according to a survey from Pew Research Center.
Walmart is the largest retail gun dealer in America. That’s why protesters gathered outside a Walmart in Florida last week—just a mile from where the Parkland massacre took place last year—to demand Walmart stop selling guns. The protest made headlines across the country—and is part of a growing movement of people who are pushing Walmart to change its policies.
This week, let’s keep building that momentum—by hand-delivering letters to Walmarts across the country, demanding they stop selling firearms.
MoveOn members are working with the Walmart Must Act coalition—including Guns Down, Color Of Change, March for Our Lives, Women’s March, the American Federation of Teachers, and more—to keep up the pressure on Walmart. Walmart may be the largest retail gun dealer in the country, but we know that it is susceptible to public pressure.
Here’s what you can do:
Print out a letter at home. (It’s provided on the website.)
Deliver it to your local customer service counter and say it’s a message for the manager.
Take a photo or video of yourself delivering it—or have a friend join you—so you can share your experience on social media with the hashtag #WalmartMustAct.
Police in Philadelphia have arrested a gunman who sparked an almost eight-hour standoff after he opened fire on officers serving a warrant for drug crimes, injuring six officers. A 36-year-old suspect was taken into custody around midnight after a SWAT team fired tear gas into the building where he’d holed up. The man was reportedly heavily armed and had an AK-47 assault rifle. This is Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney.
Mayor Jim Kenney: “It’s aggravating. It’s saddening. And it’s just something that we need to do something about. And if the state and federal government don’t want to stand up to the NRA and some other folks, then let us — let us — police ourselves. But they preempt us on all kinds of gun control legislation. Our officers deserve to be protected, and they don’t deserve to be shot at by a guy for hours with an unlimited supply of weapons and an unlimited supply of bullets.”
Was it okay as long as it was just regular citizens? Children?