I moved to Santa Clarita, California from Phoenix, Arizona, when I was 12 years old. Instantly, I loved it. In my opinion, the suburbs of Los Angeles County are much nicer than the city itself—it felt like the type of safe community you would see on a television show. At such a young age I didn’t really have any political views. I knew my dad owned guns, but I never thought much of it.
When I was 16, everything changed. On the morning of November 14, 2019, I arrived for my first period at Saugus High School. I ran track and spent a large portion of my time training, so I was one of the few students who had an additional class early in the day.
At one point during the lesson, I left the room and went to speak to a friend in the hallway. Around three minutes into our conversation, I heard the first gunshot go off.
I waited for my friend to say something. I wanted to gauge his reaction to see if I needed to freak out, but he just kept talking. Later I found out that he hadn’t heard the gun go off, which is why he wasn’t alarmed by it.
Almost immediately afterwards there was screaming and kids running directly towards us, but I didn’t want to start freaking out and causing a scene if nothing serious was happening.
I started to hear repeated gunfire, but my initial reaction was to walk towards the gunshots and see what was going on. At the time our city was considered an exceedingly safe place to live, so I never thought I would actually be involved in a school shooting.
As I started to walk, another student stopped me. “I don’t know what’s happening, but you have got to get the hell out of here,” he said. I turned to my friend and told him we had to go. He agreed. We both turned around and started running; that was the moment reality sank in.
Running from gunshots
My initial thought was: “You’re not running fast enough.” Because I was a track runner I instantly started critiquing my form in my head, but I think I was just trying to distract myself from the stress.
I kept running until I turned around to see where my friend was, and realized he wasn’t behind me. My mind was blank—it was just a terrifying feeling. I don’t have the words to describe it. I eventually made eye contact with him and, as I did so, saw one of my teachers open their door to let students into their classroom in my peripheral vision.
Without saying anything, my friend and I just knew where we were going. So we ran back down the hallway, towards the gunshots, to get to the classroom. As we ran we saw a girl, covered in blood, clearly struggling to run. Some other friends sort of grabbed her and made sure we all made it into the classroom.
Once we were inside the classroom, I couldn’t even think. I instantly started trying to figure out where to hide as my friend checked me for gunshot wounds. We sat down against the wall, but there was no good place to hide—no matter where I sat, I would have been in view of the hallway or the outdoor windows.
I didn’t have my phone with me, so my friend handed me his so I could text my dad. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to scare him, because I hadn’t been injured, and I knew he was away working so it would take him an hour to get back to Santa Clarita.
“Hey, dad, it’s me,” I wrote. “There’s a shooting at Saugus, I’m in a classroom. I’m safe but I have to go, bye.”
Hiding in a classroom
We were going around the room introducing ourselves to one another, to try and distract each other, when the girl from the hallway revealed she had been shot in the abdomen. I just thought: “Holy crap, what do we do?”
We called 911 to try to get information on how to help someone with a gunshot wound. But, presumably because there were so many calls coming through, we were disconnected. We were on our own.
At the time, the injured student was sitting at a desk, so we picked her up and laid her on the floor. My friend put on gloves from the first aid kit and instantly started applying pressure.
We didn’t know what else to do, so sat there trying to find anything that would make the situation a little less scary—we even went around the room and each revealed our favorite streaming shows.
The next thing I remember was someone saying: “There’s a gun.” Instinctually, we all went quiet. I thought time stopped. You feel like you’re sitting there forever, like time is just not moving even though I’m sure it was only a second.
When the person with the gun came around the corner, we realized it was a cop. He was followed by six more police officers who all came to our door. They were holding their rifles and saying: “Hold on, don’t move. We’re getting a key.”
Police evacuating the classroom
Shortly afterwards, our vice principal came running out with the key and police opened the door. Instantly, they said: “Stand up, hands up, drop everything.” At the time I was on the phone with my friend’s mom, so I dropped the phone.
Police then decided to get us off campus, so we lined up in single file, with our hands up above our heads and walked outside. They heard footsteps coming up the nearby stairs, so they threw us all against the wall until they could figure out who was coming.
Quickly they realized there was no threat, so we walked to the edge of the school where our vice principal was standing. He told us we could put our hands down and that our parents were going to meet us at a nearby park.
Initially, we thought we had been waiting in the classroom for at least an hour, but after talking with the FBI, we realized it was only 15 minutes.
Initial response to the shooting
When I got home, I planted myself in front of the television. It seemed every news station was talking about what had happened and how they didn’t know where the shooter was. At that point, I did not feel safe. I later discovered that shooter had killed two students before taking his own life.
I felt more secure when my dad got home, but immediately he started bawling—there’s only a handful of occasions that I’ve ever seen my dad cry, and that’s one of them.
He wanted me to talk to someone about what had happened, so that evening I visited an emergency trauma therapy area which had been set up for the local community. My dad had encouraged me to go, but I was not ready to talk so I just sat there in silence.
One thing I remember vividly was being p***** off at the media. It felt as though they had little to no respect for us—at least those of us that didn’t want to be in the light. There were cameras in our faces constantly and news anchors posting photographs of themselves smiling in front of our school.
At the time I was really out of touch with politics. I knew Donald Trump was the president but I didn’t know much about any of his policies. In fact, I don’t think I even knew what party he aligned with.
However, whenever I walked past cameras, I would say: “Trump 2020”. Myself and friends on both sides of the political spectrum believed that news stations would be less likely to use footage of us if we appeared to be supporters of the president.
I don’t personally believe anyone wanted to hear a Republican side of the argument, let alone hear from a Republican survivor of the shooting.
In the weeks after the shooting, I became obsessed with the details of the event. I believe it was a trauma response, but I had to know exactly what had happened with our shooting, I still do. I started studying major shootings through American history; Sandy Hook, Parkland and Columbine.
I noticed one thing these shootings had in common—they took place in gun-free zones. As more information emerged about the shooting at my own school, I came to the conclusion that an adult at the school with a gun could have helped. I believe there were a few quick moments where the shooter probably could have been stopped.
Becoming vocal about gun control
I waited a few days before I posted anything about the shooting. For the most part, everything my peers were saying I agreed with. They were sharing posts saying children should be able to go to school without the risk of death, which of course I agree with, so I posted similar things.
But quickly things became really political. I’m not sure how long it was exactly, but I took a while to gather my thoughts before I told my peers my thoughts on gun control—that I was not in favor of making firearms illegal in the United States. The reaction was not good.
Naturally, from those who were pro-gun, I received a lot of love and support, but I also got a barrage of hate from those who were not. I lost contact with a lot of people from my school after airing my views, which I think deep down stung a little.
But I can’t be angry, because I believe I am standing up for the right thing. I understand where their opinions come from and how extremely emotional this issue is, so I cannot blame anyone for reacting viscerally to my views.
However because of my trauma response, I have done extensive research into this subject which has led me to believe wholly in the Second Amendment and to feel guns have an importance in American history.
Kaylee Stockton is a political commentator who lives in Phoenix, Arizona. You can follow her TikTok page at @Kayleestockton or her Instagram account at kayleestockton_
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
As told to Newsweek editor, Monica Greep.