- Leader Resources
- Ways to Give
- Team USA
- Log In
© Gabe Fowler
Jared Steinman sensed an eerie silence.
A sophomore lacrosse player at Saugus High School in suburban Los Angeles, Steinman rode to school the morning of Nov. 14 with his teammate and classmate, John Serazio. They got out of the car, sticks in tow, and walked toward the sloped quad between the school’s lower and upper campuses. The first bell of the day had not yet rung.
Gunshots reverberated from the quad. Steinman and Serazio stared at each other for about three seconds, dropped their lacrosse sticks and sprinted away from the quad. They hopped the fence at the end of campus and ran for their lives.
“We ran up the quad and up the hill,” Steinman said. “We ran under the pipe and just kept running and running and running.”
A gunman had opened fire on five classmates, killing two of them before turning the homemade semi-automatic pistol on himself.
Steinman and Serazio darted toward the Saugus softball field, a popular hangout spot for the lacrosse team. They found a handful of teammates waiting for them.
“I felt a little safer because I knew we took the same route,” Steinman said. “We all ran away together.”
Senior Nathan Miller had been preparing for the morning news show with his video production class when his mother called asking if he was on lockdown. Seconds later, alarms sounded.
The power of the Medicine Game.
Joe Walters and Kyle Hartzell visited Saugus High School, the site of a fatal school shooting last fall. pic.twitter.com/jcXTCY7g0M
— Premier Lacrosse League (@PremierLacrosse) February 13, 2020
The Saugus lacrosse group chat flooded with messages talking about a gunman. Miller rushed to the prop closet to grab whatever makeshift weapons he could find. His class sat for 90 minutes before being evacuated.
“For a lot of kids, they were in the closet crying and shaking,” Miller said. “I was mad that there was almost nothing I could do. But as long as you’re protecting the people that you are with, that’s all you can do.”
Senior Trent Burke sat in his statistics class on the upper side of campus when he saw hoards of students running. “Active shooter!” one of them shouted. Burke’s instincts kicked in. He and teammate Austin Thompson stood by the door for more than three hours to protect the class from harm.
As police escorted them away from campus, Burke laid eyes on a school that suddenly looked very different to him.
“Everything was quiet and something was in the air,” he said. “You could just feel it.”
David Steinman has two passions: fighting fires and coaching lacrosse.
A Los Angeles Fire Department engineer, Steinman started the Santa Clarita Blackhawks as his son, Jared, came of age in the sport. With seven years of experience coaching youth lacrosse, he was the natural choice to lead the Saugus High School team in its inaugural varsity season last spring.
Steinman could not possibly fathom how his two worlds collided Nov. 14.
Steinman, who is stationed in Saugus, rushed to Central Park to help with the evacuation as soon as he heard about the shooting. As did his assistant coach, Bob Maycott, a Beverly Hills police lieutenant and former SWAT team leader.
Helicopter images showed the quad littered with backpacks and lacrosse equipment. Steinman knew his son had made it out safely, but it was too early to know about the rest of the varsity and junior varsity team members.
“How could I possibly know if all 73 of them are safe?” he said.
After hours of texting with players and parents, Steinman tracked down each one of them. A moment of relief on a tragic day.
That night, Steinman held one of his “Fellowship” meetings at his house. More than 50 players came and shared emotions for hours over a bonfire. Upperclassmen comforted their younger teammates, as each came to terms with the magnitude of what transpired earlier in the day.
“Your mind is just spinning,” Miller said. “People might try to push others away and hide, but that’s the worst thing to do. To have a coach that’s pushing kids to come to his house and decompress and talk about it and share stories, that’s the most important part of the healing process.”
Days later, when students were allowed back on campus to retrieve cars and other valuables, Steinman took the lacrosse players to the quad for the first time since the shooting. They stood on the grass where 16-year-old Nathaniel Berhow opened fire. They walked over to the spot where 15-year-old Gracie Anne Muehlberger and 14-year-old Dominic Blackwell were killed. They prayed.
Steinman saw the moment as an opportunity to teach his team a valuable lesson.
“I thought it was important to understand that it was just a piece of dirt,” he said. “You can’t look at in a way that’s scary and intimidating. It’s just dirt.”
It was an important step in the recovery process for a group of students that experienced something traumatic just days earlier. The Centurions united around the concept of resilience. It resonated not only for the boys’ lacrosse team, but the girls’ lacrosse team as well.
“We’re not going to let this take us out of our element,” said Gabe Fowler, US Lacrosse regional manager for the Pacific Southwest and coach of the Saugus girls’ team. “We’re not going to give up and throw in the towel. We’re going to persevere and be Saugus Strong.”
Lacrosse represented not only resilience, but normalcy for the Saugus High School players.
Two days after the shooting, with their equipment still locked up at the school, many of them traveled to the San Diego area for a club tournament with Legion Lacrosse Club. Local retailers helped outfit the team so it could compete.
“Every kid on that team was like, ‘No, we're going. We have a real reason to play now,’” junior Jacob Hensley said. “The stuff that I heard the kids say to each other at that tournament was unbelievable. They were like, ‘Yeah, we got beat, but we won the lottery. We’re here playing lacrosse.’”
Still, the grief lingered. Hensley’s father, Trevor, contacted US Lacrosse a week after the shooting. Jacob Hensley had competed in a regional trial for the National Team Development Program earlier in the year.
“I just know our boys love this sport so much and it has helped them through a very painful and sad time providing them with fun, normalcy and, even if just for a few hours, escape from the constant process of dealing with this trauma,” he wrote in an email.
Classes resumed Monday, Dec. 9, at Saugus High School. By then, it was already in the works: US Lacrosse and the Premier Lacrosse League would partner for a joint clinic featuring Kyle Hartzell and Joe Walters.
“I saw the email and immediately thought there was something we have to do. There has to be something,” said Arielle Insel, senior manager of brand marketing at US Lacrosse. “You don’t always think that a lacrosse clinic would be such a big deal for someone who went through something like that, but it was great that we were able to be a part of it.”
On Jan. 16, as the sun peered through the clouds on an unseasonably chilly Thursday afternoon at Saugus High School, dozens of Saugus lacrosse players stood in the middle of the school’s turf field and listened to two of the most influential players in the sport — Hartzell, a two-time U.S. team member and defenseman for the PLL’s Atlas, and Walters, also a U.S. team veteran and midfielder for the PLL’s Redwoods.
The two lacrosse stars shared stories of personal loss before breaking up the players into drills.
“We addressed it and wanted to move on with the clinic and not talk about it anymore,” Hartzell said. “We wanted to take their minds off of that. We just wanted to teach them about lacrosse and make them better players on that day and get them excited that we were there.”
It didn't take much to get players to focus. They had waited for this day for weeks. They left school between sixth and seventh periods. Just yards from a line of trailers that housed grief counselors, they went through shooting drills with Walters and took defensive pointers from Hartzell. Just fundamentals, but they came from the pros.
“They were excited about it happening, but then when they were with professional athletes and they were told to shoot the ball, they were a mess,” David Steinman joked. “I’ve never seen them so attentive. I made the joke the next day that everything those coaches told them, we tell them every day in practice, but they never listen.”
In addition to the visit from the two PLL pros, the Saugus players also received Team USA t-shirts. Hartzell and Walters stayed for nearly an hour after the clinic, signing autographs and talking with them.
“They were fundamental in making this a special place again,” Burke said.
“Saugus is our home,” Jared Steinman said. “Being able to step onto that field with them and my teammates and knowing that we're safe, it feels great. It’s a great feeling to know we can feel safe on campus where something horrible happened.”
The campus, which had been equipped with metal detectors and a heavy police presence for weeks, felt a little less like a “prison,” Miller said, and a little more like a school again.
“These guys are never going to be the same again and it breaks my heart,” Trevor Hensley said. “For lacrosse to be something that they can use to deal with it and to make [Jacob] feel positive about himself and his experience at his school, I can’t wrap my head around how important it was for PLL and USL to do this.”