Saugus HS Teacher Reflects: "After so much pain, we have chosen the path of love."

DJ Hamburger worked as an intern for Jennifer Van Laar in 2016 and is currently working on his full-time California teaching credential for high school French language. He is a long term substitute teacher for the Hart District and was on scene at Saugus High School for the shooting on November 14, 2019. He is also an Officer in the Army National Guard. Below is his experience and his view of the aftermath.

It has been one week since every teacher’s worst nightmare, one which we dare not entertain in even our worst dreams, happened to me. I was en route to Saugus High School when I got a text message from my aunt. She asked if I was near the statue [on the Saugus High campus], then a subsequent text came immediately after asking if my mother [an Assistant Principal at Saugus] was okay.

That there could be such a horrific tragedy occurring didn’t even enter my mind, so I called her to ask if it was some stupid (or creative) senior prank involving the statue again. But on the first ring my aunt answered with the dreaded news, “There’s an active shooter at Saugus. Are you okay? Where is your mom?” I will forever be haunted by that question.

I got to Saugus High School at about the same time as most of the first responders. In the parking lot I came across two of my students who were hiding. I am so proud of them and the courage they displayed during such an unbelievable, traumatic event.

A horrible rumor had spread about a female staffer in the office becoming one of the victims. So after making sure the girls I was now responsible for had spoken to their parents and learning their parents would not be able to retrieve them for a number of hours, I asked if they’d be all right waiting with me behind the perimeter to see that my mother was okay.

After waiting those excruciating minutes, I finally saw my mother walk out of the office with another assistant principal. Once I saw her, I knew we had a mountain of work to get started on at the Command Center in Central Park.

My Army training kicked in and I walked those girls over to Central Park as there were no buses available. After a brief moment of greeting my amazing fellow colleagues and teachers, I got to work.

To anyone who may have felt slighted, I am deeply, deeply sorry. We had equally important and competing needs and interests from the school, the school district, the county Sheriffs, and the FBI. The balancing of those needs, with the still unfolding situation, meant we had to constantly adapt. Especially when the news came that our incident had become a tragedy.

But I am especially grateful to the amazing staff from my alma mater, Canyon High, who were able to come and help us. Their help was indescribable with this massive undertaking.

Finally, when the last of the needs were met and the last of the students were reunited with their guardians, I was able to check my phone and check the time. It was 2pm.

That was Thursday, 14th November 2019. When three of my students passed from this world.

The week since has been indescribable. There are no words that I can think of, in either language I speak, that I can explain this with. #SaugusStrong has been a rallying cry for our beautiful city. But the controversy has already begun.

Many claim they do not want this tragedy to go without action. Without impacting change in some way.

But what those do not see is what I have seen. The outpouring of love and pure grace has been extraordinary. At a time when we could pile so much hate, so much anger, so much distress; our valley has chosen to love unconditionally. To walk the harder road of grace and compassion.

Not only have we shown this love to the innocents lost, but we have also shown it to their families. Including the mother of the boy who did the unthinkable. We as a city have chosen to love her too. For she is in an indescribable place as well, and all of our children make bad choices at some point.

After so much pain, we have chosen the path of love. And that makes me deeply proud of my city.

Thank you all so much. I have felt that love from everywhere imaginable. I know I have not replied to everyone just yet, but I’m making my way to replying to you all. I’ve read everything, I just haven’t had enough time to reply as I’ve been prioritizing the students first and trying to take care of myself. Just please know how much your prayers and checking in on me have meant. I’m so thankful to have each of you through this journey in my life.

May God bless you all.


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