Tragedy at Aptos High School

Dear Families of Santa Cruz County,

Today we are heartbroken. We grieve with the Aptos High School community following yesterday’s tragic loss of a 17-year-old student. Our hearts are with the student’s family, friends, the Aptos High School community, the Pajaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD), and all of those impacted by this unprecedented and devastating event.

As leaders of Santa Cruz County’s educational community, we stand united in full support of the students, parents, and staff members of Aptos High School and the PVUSD as they continue to respond to this tragedy. We are grateful for the steadfast leadership of PVUSD Superintendent Dr. Michelle Rodriguez, and Aptos High Principal Peggy Pughe who are deeply committed to the wellbeing of our community.

We are also grateful to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office and all involved first responders, and the Aptos High staff, for their compassionate support and ongoing response. We know that this tragedy has impacted many in our community. We encourage parents to speak openly with students and give them space to share their feelings and concerns. Parents are encouraged to review the attached tips from the National Association of School Psychologists for helping children cope with tragic situations such as this.

PVUSD needs to hear from the community and is hosting two upcoming forums. The first, for the Aptos High School community is on Thursday, September 2, at 7:30 p.m. at the following addresses:

The second forum, geared to the entire PVUSD community, is scheduled for Tuesday, September 7, at 6 p.m. at the following addresses.

PVUSD and community partners have made grief counselors available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Cabrillo College’s Aptos campus in Building 100, as well as the Cabrillo College Watsonville Campus in Building A. Grief counselors and psychologists will be on campus at Aptos High when in-person class resumes Friday and on an ongoing basis. Those in need of additional counseling or support can call Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance at 831-728-6445, or Santa Cruz County mental health services at 831-454-4170.

The law enforcement investigation is ongoing, and PVUSD and the Sheriff’s Office will share further updates as soon as they are available. Anyone with information about the incident should contact Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Billy Burnett at 831-454-7702.

This tragedy has shaken and deeply saddened all of us, and our community’s path to healing is only beginning. To all of those impacted, know that we will stand with you every step of the way.

Yours in education and equity,

Santa Cruz County Superintendents


We would like to share with you some tips from the National Association of School Psychologists for helping your children cope with traumatic situations.

What Parents Can Do:

  1. Focus on your children over the week following the tragedy. Tell them you love them and everything will be okay. Try to help them understand what has happened, keeping in mind their developmental level.
  2. Make time to talk with your children. Remember, if you do not talk to your children about this incident, someone else will. Take some time and determine what you wish to say.
  3. Stay close to your children. Your physical presence will reassure them and give you the opportunity to monitor their reaction. Many children will want actual physical contact. Give plenty of hugs. Let them sit close to you, and make sure to take extra time at bedtime to cuddle and to reassure them that they are loved and safe.
  4. Limit your child’s television viewing of these events. If they must watch, watch with them for a brief time; then turn the set off. Don’t sit mesmerized rewatching the same events over and over again.
  5. Maintain a “normal” routine. To the extent possible stick to your family’s normal routine for dinner, homework, chores, bedtime, etc.,  but be flexible. Children may have a hard time concentrating on schoolwork or falling asleep at night.
  6. Spend extra time reading or playing quiet games with your children before bed. These activities are calming, foster a sense of closeness and security, and reinforce a sense of normalcy. Spend more time tucking them in. Let them sleep with a light on if they ask for it.
  7. Safeguard your children’s physical health. Stress can take a physical toll on children as well as adults. Make sure your children get appropriate sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
  8. Consider thinking hopeful thoughts or praying for the victims and their families. It may be a good time to take your children to your place of worship, write a poem, or draw a picture to help your child express their feelings and feel that they are somehow supporting the victims and their families.
  9. Those in need of additional counseling or support can call Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance at 831-728-6445, or Santa Cruz County mental health services at 831-454-4170