Ram­page ‘could have been so much worse’

Of­fi­cers shoot dead a gun­man who kills 4 in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia; quick ac­tion at school pre­vents more deaths.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Paige St. John, Joe Mozingo and Ruben Vives

RAN­CHO TE­HAMA, Calif. — Stu­dents were play­ing in the school­yard at Ran­cho Te­hama Ele­men­tary, wait­ing for the morn­ing bell to ring, when gun­shots erupted a quar­ter mile away.

Teachers and staff im­me­di­ately rushed the chil­dren into class­rooms and un­der desks, lock­ing the doors.

A white Ford F-150 crashed through the front gate as they hun­kered down, the driver emerg­ing with a semi­au­to­matic ri­fle. Wear­ing a bal­lis­tic vest, he stormed into the quad and shot at the walls and win­dows but was un­able to en­ter the class­rooms. Af­ter sev­eral ag­o­niz­ing min­utes, the shots stopped. The gun­man got back into the stolen pickup and moved on to other tar­gets in this dusty en­clave in the hay­fields of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

At least four peo­ple would die at his hands be­fore the 45-minute killing ram­page ended when of­fi­cers, fir­ing in pur­suit on a ru­ral road, rammed his car and shot him to death, au­thor­i­ties said.

They said the lock­down by the school and the bold ac­tion by the of­fi­cers pre­vented a greater death toll.

“This in­ci­dent, as tragic and bad as it is, could have been so much worse if it wasn’t for the quick-think­ing staff at our ele­men­tary school,” said Te­hama County As­sis­tant Sher­iff Phil John­ston. “I re­ally want to say that the quick ac­tion of those school of­fi­cials, there is no doubt in my mind based on the video that I saw, saved count­less lives and chil­dren.”

No chil­dren died at the school, al­though two suf­fered gun­shot wounds and were air­lifted to hospi­tals, wit­nesses said.

John­ston would not dis­close the names of the gun­man or vic­tims, pend­ing notification of next of kin. But in a phone in­ter­view Tues­day night with the Los An­ge­les Times, the sis­ter of the gun­man con­firmed his iden­tity as Kevin Jan­son Neal, 44.

Sheri­dan Orr, of North Carolina, said her brother had a his­tory of men­tal ill­ness and episodes of rage.

“There are cer­tain peo­ple that do not need guns, and my brother was clearly one of them,” she said.

John­ston said the shoot­ing stemmed from an “on­go­ing dis­pute” with a woman on Bob­cat Lane, whom the at­tacker was charged with stab­bing in Jan­uary. She was among the first to be killed Tues­day shortly be­fore 8 a.m.

“I think the mo­tive of get­ting even with his neigh­bors and when it went that far — he just went on a ram­page,” John­ston spec­u­lated.

The Te­hama County Sher­iff’s Of­fice said that it was deal­ing with seven crime scenes and that 10 vic­tims were be­ing treated for in­juries. One of the vic­tims was 6 years old, wit­nesses said.

John­ston said there may be other vic­tims be­cause the gun­man was shoot­ing ran­domly into homes as he drove.

Ran­cho Te­hama is a quiet sub­di­vi­sion of fewer than 1,500 peo­ple, carved out of the rolling ranches, oak groves and olive and wal­nut or­chards at the north­ern tip of the Sacramento Val­ley, where the white peak of Mt. Shasta looms on clear days. Most res­i­dents “on the ranch” are re­tired or work in nearby Red Bluff or Red­ding.

Guns are com­mon, and the first re­ac­tion among neigh­bors hear­ing early morn­ing gun­fire was an­noy­ance at be­ing wo­ken up.

When he heard the shots, John Root, known as “Big John,” stomped out on his porch and started yelling.

“Hey! Don’t make me come down there and take that gun away! It’s 7:30 in the morn­ing!”

But the shoot­ing didn’t have the mea­sured pace of tar­get prac­tice. And in the bar­rage, Root said he heard at least three dif­fer­ent types of firearms.

“Gun­fire like crazy. One bang af­ter an­other,” he said.

Brian Flint told the Record Search­light that a neigh­bor shot at his room­mate and stole Flint’s truck. Flint said the man reg­u­larly fired hun­dreds of rounds from high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines and had threat­ened him and his room­mate in the past.

By the time po­lice ar­rived, the shoot­ing had stopped and the sus­pect was gone in the stolen F-150, mo­tor­ing down streets fir­ing at houses and cars. At one point, a mother driv­ing her son to school was shot and suf­fered “life-threat­en­ing in­juries,” John­ston said. The boy was in­jured too, but was ex­pected to sur­vive.

Tif­fany Rodgers, 33, was at her cof­fee shop near the school when she heard the gun­fire. Her hus­band ran out­side while she checked a lo­cal Face­book page and saw “ac­tive shooter” warn­ings.

“We heard 20 more shots. We could hear teachers scream­ing ‘get down,’ ” she said. She called 911, but the shooter was long gone when deputies ar­rived.

When the gun­man ar­rived at Ran­cho Te­hama Ele­men­tary, he tried and failed to force his way into a class­room. In­stead, he fired through the walls, said Richard Fitz­patrick, su­per­in­ten­dent of the Corn­ing Union Ele­men­tary School Dis­trict.

One stu­dent was shot in a class­room while un­der a desk, Fitz­patrick said. That stu­dent was said to be sta­ble.

“All of the staff were ab­so­lutely heroic in mak­ing sure that stu­dents were get­ting into the class­rooms as shots were be­ing fired,” Fitz­patrick said. “This was a ques­tion of min­utes.”

Fitz­patrick said staffers de­scribed the scene as “hor­rific,” with mul­ti­ple rounds fired and mul­ti­ple high-ca­pac­ity mag­a­zines found at the school.

The shooter then pur­pose­fully crashed the stolen truck into a cou­ple driv­ing a car. As they got out, he shot them, killing one and wound­ing the other. A mo­torist see­ing the crash stopped to help and was shot at too. The mo­torist ran away and the shooter took his car, a sil­ver sedan.

Rodgers said a sil­ver car flew past her with a shot-out win­dow. Soon she heard more gun­fire near the com­mu­nity dump.

Two of­fi­cers quickly came upon the sedan.

“The sus­pect was ac­tu­ally shoot­ing at the po­lice ve­hi­cle, back at them, the of­fi­cer rammed the ve­hi­cle, forced it off the road [and there was] an ex­change of gun­fire — re­sult­ing in the shooter’s death,” John­ston said.

“I have to tell you I am per­son­ally grate­ful to the men who en­gaged this sus­pect…. such a ter­ri­ble, a mass mur­derer re­ally. That’s what he is.”

Orr said Neal moved to Cal­i­for­nia about a decade ago. His men­tal health had long been a con­cern of the fam­ily.

When she learned the de­tails of Tues­day’s shoot­ing ram­page, she said, she im­me­di­ately thought of the stu­dents caught in the mid­dle of an act she’s strug­gling to un­der­stand.

“It’s a ter­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion,” she said. “Those kids will be af­fected by this and afraid, and they should be happy chil­dren go­ing to school.”

paige.stjohn@la­times.com joseph.mozingo@la­times.com ruben.vives@la­times.com St. John re­ported from Ran­cho Te­hama and Mozingo and Vives from Los An­ge­les. Times staff writer Ruben Vives con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Rich Pedroncelli Associated Press

TWO WOMEN em­brace out­side Ran­cho Te­hama Ele­men­tary af­ter the ram­page. No chil­dren died at the school, al­though two suf­fered gun­shot wounds.

Eli­jah Nou­ve­lage AFP/Getty Images

THE TE­HAMA COUNTY Sher­iff’s Of­fice said that it was deal­ing with seven crime scenes. Above, a po­lice ve­hi­cle in­volved in a shoot­ing.

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