Sheriff: Calif. school staff's quick thinking during shooting prevented more carnage

Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston said school officials prevented more carnage by quickly locking down the campus


By Mike Chapman
Redding Record Searchlight, Calif.

RED BLUFF, Calif. — Although one child was shot and injured at Rancho Tehama Elementary School during a shooter's rampage Tuesday, one local law enforcement official said school officials prevented more carnage by quickly locking down the campus.

"This incident, as tragic and as bad as it is, could've been so much worse if it wasn't for the quick thinking and staff at our elementary school," Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston said at a press conference Tuesday.

Phil Johnston, the assistant sheriff for Tehama County, briefs reporters on the shootings near the Rancho Tehama Elementary School, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, in Corning, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Phil Johnston, the assistant sheriff for Tehama County, briefs reporters on the shootings near the Rancho Tehama Elementary School, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, in Corning, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

A school district spokesman said Wednesday morning that there will be no classes at Rancho Tehama for the rest of the week.

She also noted that the students will be off next week for Thanksgiving break and classes won't resume until Nov. 27.

The shooter, identified by law enforcement as 44-year-old Kevin Neal of Rancho Tehama, drove a vehicle to the elementary school on his third of seven stops in his shooting spree. He ended up killing four people in the rural Northern California community and wounding 10 others before he died in a police shootout. Authorities said on Wednesday he killed his wife on Monday and hid her under the floorboards.

Officers recovered a semiautomatic rifle and two handguns they believe were used by the shooter.

The man rammed the school's fence and gate then entered the campus on foot with a semiautomatic rifle that had a multi-round clip while wearing a tactical vest, Johnston said.

"He was wearing a load-bearing vest that you sometimes see soldiers wear that have the clips embedded in the chest," he said. "The individual shooter was bent on engaging and killing people at random."

The shooting started before classes began. The gunman shot out windows and through walls, the district said. One student on campus was injured when Neal fired 20 to 30 rounds at the school. Nobody was killed at the school.

"The shooter targeted the school from outside the school and shot multiple rounds into the school," Johnston said.

The assistant sheriff said Rancho Tehama school officials already had gone on alert after hearing shots a quarter-mile away and quickly shut down the campus.

"They went into an immediate lockdown without having to be told to do so by law enforcement," Johnston said.

Neal apparently became frustrated because he could only enter an open bathroom while he was at the school for six minutes.

"It appears that because he couldn't make access to any of the rooms because they were locked, that he gave it up and re-entered the vehicle and went on his killing spree and took it to the streets of Rancho Tehama," Johnston said.

The school has a video surveillance system being reviewed by law enforcement.

"There is no doubt in my mind, based on the video that I saw, (the school's staff) saved countless lives and children," Johnston said.

A second child was injured by the shooter's gunfire off campus when his mother was driving down the road and taking him to school.

"She passed by the (shooter's) vehicle and he opened fire on them without provocation or warning," Johnston said.

The boy, who was in the back seat, didn't suffer life-threatening injuries, Johnston said. The mother did suffer life-threatening wounds, either from a bullet or shrapnel from the bullet hitting the pickup, the sheriff's official said Tuesday.

After the shooter left the school, officials put the students on a bus and took them to a nearby Rancho Tehama Association recreation hall for safety.

Many parents suffered anxious moments at a law enforcement roadblock while they waited to hear details of the school shooting.

"I know it was very hard on some of the parents because they were stuck at the roadblock. They couldn't get through, but we had to do what we could to secure the area and make sure the children were safe," Johnston said.

©2017 the Redding Record Searchlight (Redding, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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