Gunman kills at least 4, wounds 10, in Northern California

Undersheriff Phil Johnston with the Tehama County Sheriff's Office said there are seven shooting scenes and there may be more victims. (Record Searchlight/USA TODAY Network)

RANCHO TEHAMA RESERVE, CALIF. - An apparent felon who had been shooting hundreds of rounds of bullets in recent days in a small community in Northern California began firing at random Tuesday, killing at least four people and wounding 10 others.

The gunman shot at people and property in at least seven locations, said Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston. He called the incident a "bizarre and murderous rampage." 

Johnston confirmed two children were shot and wounded in the shooting at Rancho Tehama subdivision, but said children were not among the dead. He said the motive "looks like a guy trying to get even with his neighbor."

The Sacramento Bee and members of the Rancho Tehama subdivision identified the gunman as Kevin Janson Neal, 43.

The rampage began shortly after 8 a.m. PT near Bobcat and Fawn lanes when the gunman stole a car. He crashed the car, and a man stopped to ask whether he was OK, Johnston said. The suspect shot at that man but didn't hit him. He did steal his vehicle. 

Johnston said officials at Rancho Tehama Elementary School heard gunfire and immediately locked down the facility.

He says it was “monumental” that school workers took the action they did, and he had no doubt they saved children's lives.

The school was the shooter's third stop, and he became frustrated when he couldn't get into the school, Johnston said. The gunman shot 20 to 30 rounds at the school, and went into a bathroom, the only part of the school not locked down. 

Coy Ferreira told KRCR-TV that he was dropping off his daughter for kindergarten when gunfire erupted and a secretary ran out and yelled for the kids to race inside.

Ferreira says he wound up in a classroom where 14 students cowered under desks while shots rang out for what seemed nearly a half-hour.

He says some bullets hit the windows and a boy was shot in the chest and foot. His family told KRCR-TV that he was in critical condition.

The gunman was at the school for six minutes, then drove off and continued to shoot at people in various parts of the community, including at a pickup with a woman and two children inside. The woman was seriously injured, and one child received minor injuries. 

Law enforcement saw the suspect shooting at the pickup and gave chase, ramming his vehicle and forcing it off the road before two deputies killed him in a shootout. Johnston said the deputies, who weren't injured, found the gunman dead inside a car. They also found the semiautomatic rifle and two handguns they say he used. A second long gun was also recovered. One of the long guns was an AR-15, Johnston said. 

The entire incident lasted 45 minutes.

"This man was very, very intent on completing what he set out to do today," Johnston said. "The shooter was bent on killing and shooting people at random."

Rancho Tehama resident Salvador Tello said he was taking his three children to school when the gunman fired at a truck in front of him.

Tello saw bullets hit the truck, so he made his children get down and put his own truck in reverse, he said. As he left, he saw a woman lying in the street with her husband next to her. 

The 10 wounded were taken to various hospitals around the area: Three to Mercy Medical Center in Redding, two to St. Elizabeth Community Hospital in Red Bluff and five — three of whom were treated and released — to Enloe Medical Center in Chico, employees at those hospitals said. One of those patients was transferred to University of California-Davis Medical Center, a spokesperson there said. 

Deputies escorted a busload of students from the school, which houses about 100 kindergarteners to fifth-graders, to a safer location, the Rancho Tehama Association community building less than a mile away. No students or staff were killed, said Superintendent Rich DuVarney of the county education department.

Joseph Raven was doing tile work with a co-worker at a Rancho Tehama home when the shooting started.

"We heard the bullets fly right next to our ears," Raven said. "There were screams: a female screaming, a male screaming. There were helicopters all over the place."

Brian Flint said he got a call in the morning that his roommate was injured and that his truck had been stolen. It turned out his neighbor was the gunman.

“The crazy thing is that the neighbor has been shooting a lot of bullets lately, hundreds of rounds, large magazines,” Flint said. “We made it aware that this guy is crazy and he’s been threatening us.”

Living near the gunman was "hell," Flint said, adding he was a known felon who often harassed Flint and his neighbors.

The exact motive remains unclear, but officials at an afternoon press conference said Neal had a history of problems with neighbors.

Neal had been arrested in January for stabbing a woman and robbing another woman, both of whom obtained restraining orders against him. Johnston said the woman Neal stabbed was killed in Tuesday's rampage. Neal was released on $160,000 bail after that arrest. 

Prosecutors also alleged Neal fired a gun — possibly an AR-15 Bushmaster rifle — during the attack, according to court documents. The rifle was specifically mentioned as illegal in a criminal complaint filed earlier this year. 

Police declined to identify the shooter until his relatives are notified but confirmed the same man was charged with the January assault. The district attorney, Gregg Cohen, told the Sacramento Bee the man in that case is Kevin Neal.

The FBI was sending teams to assist Tehama County investigators, said Jason Wandel, chief division counsel at the FBI's Sacramento field office.

State Sen. Jim Nielsen, a Republican from Gerber, Calif., whose district includes Rancho Tehama, called the incident "senseless violence." Other politicians, including Vice President Mike Pence, also offered their condolences.

 

 

Corning Union Elementary School District released a statement Tuesday evening saying that all Rancho Tehama students and staff had been accounted for and that the school would be closed until law enforcement completed an investigation and repairs could be made to the building.

"School staff is commended for their courageous and professional response to this terrible incident," the statement read. "The school was able to go on lockdown very quickly and effectively, which prevented any further injury or violence."

Katrina Gierman, who lives near the school, said she heard gunshots when she went outside.

"I have not left my house because I am with my newborn son, very scary moment," Gierman said. "I have the right to bear arms, and I will protect my son if I have to."

Another resident with a baby, Casey Burnett, said she saw the gunman driving around the area, shooting randomly from his car.

The incident comes a week after a shooting spree at a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church left 25 people dead, including a pregnant woman whose unborn baby also died, and a little over a month after 58 people were killed in a massacre at a Las Vegas country music festival.

Tuesday wasn't the first time the Rancho Tehama school had a gun scare.

In December 2015, a then-43-year-old woman was arrested after a school employee called law enforcement because she allegedly was walking around with a sawed-off shotgun. The woman also was arrested, in part, because deputies said they found a stolen pickup in her yard.

Rancho Tehama Reserve, a subdivision that is home to almost 1,500 people, is described on its website as a “quiet private country community” located 12 miles west of Interstate 5 and about 110 miles northwest of Sacramento.

In 2010, more than 86% of the community's residents were white, and Rancho Tehama's poverty rate was 43%, according to Census Bureau data from 2010.

The property Neal lived at is a collection of mobile homes scattered around a home. Google Earth images show numerous marijuana grows in the neighborhood. 

Rosie DeOliveira, administrative assistant at the association, said deputies for much of the morning had instructed the community, including the elementary school and airport, to shelter in place and stay low.

"Our doors are locked," she said.

Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow Jim Schultz on Twitter: @JimSchultz_RS

 

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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