When sophomore Elijah Mims, 15, performed in an active shooter training video for a class project earlier this school year, the Santa Clarita native never thought he'd actually be running for his life.
“We were just preparing for the worst, but we never thought anything would occur in a suburb like Santa Clarita. It’s such a lovely place,” Mims told USA TODAY in a phone interview.
In the instructional video, Mims played the role of a "person who was hiding," later demonstrating to students how they could safely escape an active shooter situation. On Thursday, Mims found himself a few feet away from an armed classmate. He sprinted into an empty classroom, where he huddled quietly with dozens of other students until police entered the room.
"The video helped me out since I reacted right away and was able to do what I needed," Mims said.
The school shooting that killed two and injured at least three people at Saugus High School Thursday comes amid a national debate around how to prepare for and respond to active shooter situations, with some schools and policymakers advocating a range of tactics — from "bulletproof backpacks" to curved hallways.
The debate gained traction following the Feb. 14, 2018, killing of 17 children and school staffers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, after it came to light that the school safety officer on duty failed to confront the gunman. He now faces criminal charges.
Gun manufacturers are beginning to be held accountable for their role in school shootings. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court refused to shield a major arms manufacturer from potential liability in the 2012 school shooting that left 26 students and educators dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The situation at Saugus High School played out differently. On Thursday morning, the suspected shooter, a 16-year-old boy, carried a handgun onto campus in his backpack, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a press conference. The suspect pulled out the gun, shot five people and then shot himself in the head.
The shooting happened shortly before 8 a.m., and police responded rapidly: Officers were on the scene within two minutes of receiving the first 911 call.
Santa Clarita school: 2 dead after male student shoots 5
According to preliminary information, two threats had recently been made against the school, but authorities deemed that they "had no nexis to this subject," Kent Wegener, chief of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Homicide Bureau, said Thursday.
What safety measures were in place?
According to the Hart School District website, an array of safety measures are in place to prevent and respond to an active shooter.
Each school campus is fenced off and equipped with a School Resource Officer, who is expected to form relationships with students, provide intervention to assist students, and assist staff with difficult situations. Schools are required to practices a minimum of two lockdown drills per year. If students witness suspicious activity, they can report it through the school's "Text-a-Tip" hotline.
Each school also has a "Safe Schools Ambassador" — a student trained to work within their peer groups to prevent bullying, exclusion, teasing, and violence on campus, the district website says. There are nearly 1,500 students ambassadors across the district, which serves nearly 23,000 students.
Following Thursday's shooting, some students and parents began calling for the school to implement metal detectors. "I grew up in a community where you didn’t have metal detectors, but times have changed," school district supervisor Kathryn Ann Barger told ABC. Barger said the Los Angeles Unified School District already employs metal detectors.
Teachers respond to an active shooter
On Thursday, teachers sprang into action to protect their students. James Burns, a parent who lives in Santa Clarita, California, said his 16-year-old daughter, Keegan, who is a junior at Saugus High School, was in her first period class when she saw kids outside climbing the fence and running away from the school.
"Her teacher went to the door and sheltered them in place, away from the windows, told them to turn their phones off, locked the door, and grabbed the baseball bat out of his cabinet," Burns said. "He stood at the door with the bat until the room was cleared by the sheriff."
Burns was at work when he got a text alert from the school, followed by a "hysterical" call from Keegan's mother. "At that point, as a parent, all your worst fears come rushing to the surface," Burns said.
When he heard about the actions of Keegan's teacher, Burns said that he was "ecstatic." "It's beyond words. I'm relieved that the teacher would do that," Burns said.
Meanwhile, the school's band director hid students in the band room. George Atilano said his trombonist daughter Raquel, 14, told him band practice had just begun when students started rushing into the classroom saying there was a shooter.
He said the band director went outside to confirm that there was indeed a shooter then came back in and started finding places where students could be kept out of sight, including an office and library. “He rounded kids up and shoved them in there,” Atilano said. The group was rescued about 20 minutes later.
Burns said that he believes school staff and law enforcement responded appropriately to the situation. "I have nothing negative I can say about it. It’s a very, very tight-knit community, and a lot of your neighborhoods are law enforcement. A lot of officers grabbed their gear from their house and went," Burns said.
While hundreds of families are still processing the tragedy, Burns said he counts himself among the lucky ones. "My daughter’s coming home tonight," he said.
Contributing: Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Santa Clarita Saugus High School shooting raises safety questions