People who knew the 16-year-old boy suspected of killing two students in a burst of gunfire at a high school outside Los Angeles described him as a quiet, smart kid who they’d never expect to turn violent.
One fellow junior at Saugus High School said the suspect is a Boy Scout who she relied on to study for advanced placement European history. A student in his physics class said he seemed like “one of those normal kids.” A next-door neighbor who grew up with him said he kept to himself but was never threatening.
The attacker shot five students, seemingly at random, and then shot himself in the head around 7:30 a.m. Thursday, his 16th birthday, authorities said. Two students died, and the gunman was gravely wounded.
Police have not publicly identified the shooter because he’s a minor. The Associated Press determined his identity based on property records for his home, which police said was searched after the shooting, and interviews with three of his friends.
The boy lived with his mother in a modest home on a leafy street in Santa Clarita, a Los Angeles suburb of about 210,000 people known for good schools, safe streets and relatively affordable housing.
His father died two years ago. Two years before that, the father had been arrested amid a domestic dispute with the boy’s mother.
“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.”
Police said they had yet to determine a motive and any relationship between the gunman and the victims. Authorities said they have no indication the boy was acting on behalf of any group or ideology.
They confirmed a message — “Saugus, have fun at school tomorrow” — was posted to the Instagram account believed to belong to the suspect before the shooting and were trying to determine its relevance and whether someone else with access to the account might have written it.
The account provided little insight about him. It mainly featured goofy clips, some with people crashing bicycles or failing to land stunts.
Brooke Risley, a junior at Saugus High, said she had known the boy since elementary school and saw him Wednesday in engineering class. Last year, they were paired on engineering projects and sometimes he came to her house.
She couldn’t recall anything indicating he might be violent. The closest she could get was a keychain he had with a hollow bullet.
Risley described the boy as somewhat introverted, though open with his close friends, and “naturally smart.” She said he wasn’t bullied, had a girlfriend and had been an active member of a local Boy Scout troop.
Results posted online from school track meets last spring show the boy was an unexceptional middle- and long-distance runner. His GPA landed him on the honor roll in the fall of eighth grade, according to online school records.
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 two years ago, according to an online obituary, which said he worked for a health care company for 33 years as a field service engineer and “loved big game hunting and fishing of all kinds.”
According to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department records published in a local newspaper, his father was arrested in June 2015 on suspicion of attempted battery on his wife. It’s unclear how the case was resolved.
Authorities were questioning her Thursday, searching for an explanation like so many others.
“We’re all wondering,” said Risley, “what was the motive?”