A deadly shooting rampage in Northern California may have been prompted by the fatal shooting of the suspect’s wife, Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston said Wednesday.
Kevin Neal, identified as the gunman who killed four people in a string of shootings Tuesday, shot and killed his wife the previous night and concealed her body under a floor in his home, the assistant sheriff said. The discovery of his wife’s body brought the death toll to five.
“We believe that’s probably what started this whole event,” Johnston said of the wife’s shooting.
Neal had been out of bail on an assault with a deadly weapon charge from January.
Before police shot him dead, Neal also injured at least 10 others in a string of shootings that spanned at least seven sites in the small community of Rancho Tehama, west of Corning, police said. Those locations include a locked elementary school that the shooter fired into from the outside, injuring a boy.
Tuesday’s shootings started in Neal’s neighborhood shortly before 8 a.m., where he killed a woman neighbor who had a restraining order against him, Johnston said. Neal had been arrested and charged in January on suspicion of assaulting her with a deadly weapon, he said.
He then stole a pickup truck and went on a rampage in town, shooting at homes, motorists and eventually the school, apparently at random, Johnson said.
“This guy was bent on … driving by residences and arbitrarily shooting at them,” the assistant sheriff said.
Still, Johnston said it “could have been so much worse.” Wearing a tactical vest and armed with extra magazines, the gunman attempted to enter classrooms at Rancho Tehama Elementary School.
Ramming through the school’s gate
The gunman arrived at the small elementary school — about 2 miles from his home — just before classes were to begin. The staff, having heard gunfire nearby or been alerted to it, had already begun to take action.
Doors were locked and students rushed inside, where they hit the floor underneath desks and tables.
The shooter rammed the stolen pickup through the school’s locked gate, walked into the schoolyard and fired his rifle through windows and walls.
He could not get inside and left six minutes later, apparently frustrated, Johnston said.
One student was in stable condition after being wounded by gunfire, the school district said. Others were hurt by flying glass.
Before reaching the school, the gunman had fired from his vehicle at passing motorists and homes, Johnston said. At one point he shot and severely injured a woman who was driving her three children to school.
The woman was being treated for life-threatening injuries. A boy who was in the vehicle was hit by gunfire or shrapnel but was not seriously wounded, according to Johnston.
“She has no clue who he was,” the official said.
After leaving the school, the shooter intentionally crashed the pickup into a car. He exited the truck and gunned down at least one person there, Johnston said.
He then stole someone else’s sedan and “went back on his rampage,” Johnston said.
Eventually, two police officers encountered the gunman at an intersection. They returned fire, killing him, the assistant sheriff said.
Aside from the first shooting in his neighborhood, the killer appeared to be shooting people at random, Johnston said, and did not seem to have any connections to the school either.
“This is an individual who armed himself, I think with the motive of getting even with his neighbors, and when it went that far (that someone was killed) he just went on a rampage,” Johnston said.
“I have to say this incident, as tragic and as bad as it is, could have been so much worse,” he said, applauding the quick thinking of the school staff.
Mom raced back to school to warn people
A fearless mother may have also helped warn staff at the school about the danger.
Sara Gonzalez said she had dropped her daughter off at the school when the gunman attempted to shoot her as their vehicles passed. She said thinks the gunman’s windshield stopped the bullet.
She turned her vehicle around.
“I went to my daughter’s school and started honking, making people know what was going on,” she said.
Gonzalez said the gunman fired at her as she tried to get out and find her daughter. She saw the man’s face but he said nothing.
Jessie Sanders told CNN affiliate KCRA he tried to draw the gunman’s attention away from the school.
He said he ran over to the school when he heard the crack of a semi-automatic rifle.
“When I get there, the dude was shooting through the windows,” he told the Sacramento TV station. “And I said, ‘Hey why don’t you shoot this way instead.’ ”
Sanders said a bullet grazed his right forearm.
Inside the school the children tried to stay low.
Gonzalez’s daughter, Arianna Ibarra, was on the floor with her fourth-grade class.
“Our teacher told us to go under our desk and keep flat in case he comes inside,” Arianna said.
The teacher blocked the door with a computer, the 10-year-old said.
Three firearms among the weapons recovered
It was unclear whether the gunman went to the school looking for someone he knew.
“We have not connected him with any one person in the school,” Johnston said.
A semi-automatic rifle and two handguns believed to be used by the gunman have been recovered, according to Johnston. There is another gun that police have yet to recover in one of the stolen vehicles.