Quick-thinking staff saved kids with lockdown: Police accused of knowing ‘madman’ had illegal guns before rampage
RANCHO TEHAMA RESERVE, Calif. — A school secretary at a tiny elementary school rushed out to shoo children inside. A custodian swooped in, yelling “get into the classrooms,” at kids in the play yard.
Inside Rancho Tehama Elementary School, children and some parents huddled under desks as bullets riddled the tan and teal portable classrooms.
“I didn’t know what was happening and this boy was like, ‘Get down, get down!’ He did not want some people to get hurt,” 6-year-old Aileen Favela recalled Wednesday.
She was in her class with about 15 first- and second-graders when shots came through the window Tuesday during the shooting rampage by 44-year-old Kevin Neal. Favela ducked under her desk as she heard shots — “like a lot.”
Randy Morehouse, the district’s maintenance and operations head, said Neal “tried and tried and tried and tried to get into the kindergarten door,” but it was locked.
Neal then went to the back side of the cafeteria and reloaded, Morehouse said. He came onto the playground and shot at a passing car before running back to his vehicle and driving off.
Authorities credited the quick action of school personnel, who jumped into lockdown mode, for saving dozens of students at the school with a student population of about 100 students.
“I really, truly believe we would have had a horrific bloodbath at that school if that school hadn’t taken the action that it did,” Assistant Tehama County Sheriff Phil Johnston said.
Corning Union Elementary School District Superintendent Richard Fitzpatrick said there were many heroics during Tuesday’s incident, starting with the school secretary quickly recognizing the threat.
He said it “made all the difference between 100 kids being around today and dozens being shot or killed.” One student was injured.
Fitzpatrick said he met with teachers, aides and staff Wednesday. He said they did not want to talk to reporters and did not want their names made public.
“I am brokenhearted about the boy who was injured, but I am truly grateful we are not suffering any higher penalty,” he said.
Fitzpatrick declined to discuss the details of the lockdown procedure for security reasons.
‘Madman’ with illegal guns
A day after the country’s latest shooting rampage, police faced accusations of having previously turned a blind eye to the troubled shooter who was known for firing off guns despite a court order that barred him from owning firearms.
At a tense news conference Wednesday, police conceded that neighbors had repeatedly complained about Kevin Janson Neal firing hundreds of rounds from his house.
Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston said authorities responded to calls several times, but the 44-year-old Neal wouldn’t open the door, so they left.
“He was not law enforcement friendly. He would not come to the door,” Johnston said. “You have to understand we can’t anticipate what people are going to do. We don’t have a crystal ball.”
Asked about Neal’s motive, Johnston responded: “Madman on the loose. The case is remarkably clear. We will move forward and we will start the healing process.”
The evidence that emerged Wednesday, however, along with residents’ statements raised questions about whether lawlessness was occasionally tolerated.
Neal was also known to have violent squabbles with his neighbors and his wife, both of whom were among his first victims Tuesday.
Police found the bullet-riddled body of Neal’s wife stuffed under the floorboards of their home. They believe her slaying was the start of the rampage.
“We are confident that he murdered her,” Johnson said.
Neal then shot two of his neighbors in an apparent act of revenge before he went looking for random victims, ultimately killing a total of five people, all adults, and wounding 10 at different locations that included the community’s elementary school.
At the time of the attack, Neal was out of custody on bail after being charged in January with stabbing one of the neighbors he later killed in the rampage.
After the January assault, a judge barred Neal from having guns, according to court records.
The records also show that Neal was charged with illegally firing a weapon and possessing an illegal assault rifle on Jan. 31.
He was charged with five felonies and two misdemeanors. As part of a protective order that barred him from “owning, possessing, purchasing or attempting to purchase firearms,” Neal was ordered to stay away from the two female neighbors he had threatened.
The neighbor he was accused of stabbing obtained a restraining order against him in February, writing to the court that Neal fired guns to scare people in her house and alleging that he was “very unpredictable and unstable” and that he had “anger issues,” according to court documents.
The gunman’s sister, Sheridan Orr, said her brother had struggled with mental illness throughout his life and at times had a violent temper.
She said Neal had “no business” owning firearms.
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