A gun­man

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARK BER­MAN AND SU­SAN SVRLUGA mark.ber­man@wash­post.com su­san.svrluga@wash­post.com

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.

PHOTOS BY RICH PE­DRON­CELLI/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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