Melody Pellegrin, an English teacher at the Santa Clarita, Calif. school, visited the closed campus three times this week to welcome students who had left their backpacks behind on November 14 while fleeing 16-year-old Nathaniel Berhow who reportedly opened fire before turning the gun onto himself.
The gunman, a junior at Saugus, died at the hospital the following day, reported CBS News, and students Gracie Muehlberger, 15, and Dominic Blackwell, 14, were killed.
Though classes won’t resume until December 2, Pellegrin and other teachers were on site to help teens collect their abandoned possessions. The school also offered activities like coloring and yoga and therapy dogs were on hand.
“It wasn’t a question in my mind — I knew I had to be there,” Pellegrin, a second-year Saugus teacher and an alumni herself, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “There was no teacher-student relationship, we were just humans who had gone through a traumatic experience together.”
On that early morning, a student ran into Pellegrin’s first-period class shouting, “There’s a shooter!” Pellegrin had been playing a loud documentary at the time and didn’t hear the shots. “For a second, I thought it was a joke,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Then I saw that the panic was real.”
Hearing screams and running in the building, Pellegrin opened her classroom door to allow the maximum amount of students and teachers inside. “[During active shooter drills], kids are told to run to the closest open door, which, on that day, was my classroom,” she explains. When no one else was in the vicinity, Pellegrin closed and locked the door, and turned off the lights.
With the children congregated on the opposite side of the room, Pellegrin decided to usher them into a mini hallway with offices. “We barricaded the door with tables and chairs and one teacher grabbed a golf club,” the mother-of-two tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Then we sat down on the floor.”
Related: Saugus HS Students Pick Up Belongings Days After Deadly Shooting
Pellegrin had left her cellphone behind but says terrified students were texting. After about seven minutes, they heard sirens. “I thought in that moment, ‘We’re going to be OK,’” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Fifteen minutes later, deputies instructed the group to exit with their hands raised in the air, and escorted them to Central Park in Santa Clarita, where parents arrived.
“I am so proud of my students,” Pellegrin wrote in a viral Facebook post. “They did exactly as they were trained. They responded immediately. They were quiet. They listen to directions. They were brave. However, I am so sad they even had to experienced the trauma of today. It's just not right. I can't get their faces out of my head.”
Pellegrin tells Yahoo Lifestyle that her 7-year-old child attends a nearby elementary school and hearing rumors that the gunman was headed there next, was terrifying.
“We will never forget what happened and it did change us, but I hope we can find normalcy,” Pellegrin tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I want to stay positive.”
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