killed four people in a seemingly random rampage in Northern California.
A gunman shooting at random people and locations killed four people Tuesday in Northern California, attacking an elementary school and a woman driving her children to school during the rampage, authorities said.
This latest burst of gunfire to terrorize a community — which followed deadly mass shootings in Nevada and Texas — unfolded without an immediate explanation or known motive, as the gunman spewed bullets across what police described as “a very widespread area.”
Ten people were injured and taken to hospitals, including at least two children, one of whom was at the elementary school, police said. No children were among those killed in the shooting, which ended when law enforcement officers, responding to the carnage, fatally shot the gunman.
Even as authorities described a gunman leaving a bloody trail through the rural community, they also warned that the horror, “as tragic and as bad as it is, could have been so much worse,” as Phil Johnston, an assistant sheriff in Tehama County, told reporters.
When the gunman arrived at Rancho Tehama Elementary School on Tuesday morning, he rammed the fence and marched onto the grounds wielding a semiautomatic rifle and wearing a vest equipped with additional clips, Johnston said. But the gunman was unable to enter the classrooms because school officials heard gunfire and immediately locked down the premises, Johnston said.
The attacker fired dozens of rounds at the school, officials said, shooting out windows and piercing the walls of classrooms, injuring at least one student with gunfire and others with broken glass. But because he could not get inside, the frustrated gunman abandoned the school after about six minutes and went elsewhere, Johnston said, praising school officials who “saved countless lives and children.”
The bloodshed began shortly before 8 a.m., Johnston said.
Police received “multiple 911 calls of multiple different shooting sites, including the elementary school” in Rancho Tehama Reserve, a small area about 135 miles north of Sacramento, he said.
“It was very clear early on that we had a subject that was randomly picking targets,” Johnston said.
Johnston declined to identify the gunman late Tuesday afternoon, saying officials still had to notify the man’s next of kin, but he said the shooter had previously been known to law enforcement.
Police did not immediately identify a motive for the attack, although they said it was apparently preceded by a dispute the shooter had with a neighbor.
The gunman was arrested and charged in January with assaulting the neighbor — an unnamed woman — with a deadly weapon. She was among the victims killed Tuesday, said Johnston, who declined to identify her or a man found dead in the same area.
Earlier Tuesday, Johnston said police were told by neighbors that “there was a domestic-violence incident” involving the suspected attacker, who had a residence in Rancho Tehama. A restraining order had been issued against the shooter, Johnston said, but he did not know the specifics.
“This is an individual that armed himself, I think, with the motive of getting even with his neighbors, and I think when it went that far, he just went on a rampage,” Johnston said.
The gunman’s wrath was indiscriminate, according to the sheriff ’s office. He fired at homes as he passed and, at one point, intentionally crashed into a vehicle with other people in it, only to begin shooting at them as they got out, killing one, Johnston said.
In another apparently random encounter, a woman was driving her children to school when she crossed paths with the shooter. He “opened fire on them without provocation or warning,” severely injuring her and wounding one of her children, Johnston said.
“She told me that she doesn’t know this person, never seen this person, does not know why he started shooting at her,” Johnston said. “She was just passing by him.”
The gunman also did not have any apparent connection to the elementary school or anyone inside it, Johnston said, and “chose the school as a random target.” One boy at the school was shot and wounded when the gunman fired from outside, Johnston said. School officials said the student was in stable condition.
“It’s a very sad day for us here in Tehama County,” Johnston said.
Brian and Tiffany Rodgers, who own the shop Coffee Addiction, can normally hear kids laughing at the elementary school less than a mile away. On Tuesday morning, they heard gunfire.
“When I heard the shots, I could tell. I know my guns, I knew it was an automatic rifle,” Tiffany Rodgers said. “I could hear the kids screaming. You could hear the trauma.”
Brian Rodgers said he recognized the gunman, who had been fighting with his neighbors for “a long time over piddly stuff,” such as burning garbage.
Before the attack on the school, Coy Ferreira, 32, whose daughter is a kindergartner there, said he heard what he thought were fireworks. Then the 8 a.m. whistle blew three times, even though it was not 8 a.m., and a school official ordered everyone to rush inside because there was a gunman, Ferreira said.
Still wearing their backpacks, children in one classroom hid under their desks and then were told to huddle in a teacher’s office, Ferreira said. Three students appeared too frightened to run back, Ferreira said.
The gunman — visible out the window, wearing green camouflage, Ferreira said — fired a volley of bullets at the classroom’s windows. When the shooter moved on to the next room, students who had remained under their desks were told to run back to the office with others, but one child wasn’t moving, Ferreira said. He had been shot in the chest and leg.
The other teachers came out to try to stop the bleeding, and the boy was eventually taken to a hospital, Ferreira said.
“That’s when he started crying that he wanted to go home and be with his mommy,” he said. “He didn’t want to go to the doctor . . . this 5-year-old shot twice.”
Ferreira said he told his daughter she was smart and a good listener for doing what she was told. “She said, ‘ Daddy, you told me there would be no bad people at school,’ ” Ferreira recalled. “And how am I supposed to answer her?”
The ages of those killed and wounded were not immediately released by authorities.
Enloe Medical Center said it received five patients from the shooting, three of whom were treated and released Tuesday. Two remained hospitalized by the afternoon, a hospital spokeswoman said. While the victims’ ages were not immediately available, the hospital said earlier it was treating at least three children.
When law enforcement officers found the gunman, he was chasing and firing at another vehicle, Johnston said. An officer rammed the gunman’s car, forcing it off the road, and he exchanged shots with the officers, who killed him, ending his rampage.
Aaron Williams in Rancho Tehama Reserve, Calif., and Jennifer Jenkins, Julie Tate and Ellie Silverman in Washington contributed to this report.
Women embrace outside Rancho Tehama Elementary School, which was attacked by a gunman who sprayed bullets into the building from outside. One boy was wounded and taken to a hospital, Tehama County, Calif., officials said. No children were killed in the shooting.
Phil Johnston, assistant sheriff for Tehama County, told reporters that the shooter did not appear to have any “real connection to any of the victims” and seemingly chose his targets at random.