A rampaging gunman killed five people in Rancho Tehama, including his wife, whose body was found hidden beneath the floor of their home, authorities said Wednesday.
At a morning news conference, Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston said that Kevin Janson Neal, 44, likely began Tuesday’s rampage after killing his wife with several gunshots and hiding her body beneath the floor of their home.
Johnston said law enforcement officers found the woman’s body during a search at the residence on Bobcat Lane late Tuesday.
“We were looking for his wife and couldn’t find her yesterday,” Johnston said. We located her dead body concealed under the floor of the residence last night .… We believe that’s probably what started this whole event.”
It appeared that Neal had killed his wife on Monday, he said. A hole was cut in the floor and then covered up, according to Johnston.
At 7:54 a.m. the next day, authorities say Neal went on a 25-minute tear through the community of 1,500 and killed five people, including a female neighbor he’d previously attacked during an ongoing dispute. At least 14 other people were injured, including seven children — one of whom remains in critical condition, Johnston said.
Tuesday’s assault started in Neal’s neighborhood, where he killed his neighbor and his neighbor’s adult son, and then stole a Ford F-150 pickup truck to take the attack “mobile,” Johnston said.
Neal drove north and fired a semi-automatic rifle randomly out of the vehicle along the way.
“The citizens of Rancho Tehama — they need to check on each other, they need to check on their neighbors because this individual was literally going up and down the road shooting at random,” Johnston said.
People “may have a neighbor who is injured or hurt who we are not aware of,” Johnston said.
During his rampage, Neal fired eight rounds into a vehicle occupied by a mother and her son, who were headed to school. The child suffered non-life-threatening wounds, but the mother was seriously injured, Johnston said. The mother pulled out her own handgun to return fire but Neal had driven away before she could shoot, Johnston said. The woman — along with many residents in the rural area — are permitted to carry firearms, he said.
By the time Neal arrived at Rancho Tehama Elementary School — one of the community’s five elementary schools — it was a virtual ghost town, officials said. Teachers had heard gunshots about a quarter-mile away when Neal began shooting and had already placed students and staff on lockdown.
Determined to get onto the property, Neal barreled his stolen vehicle through the school’s front gates and steered into the quad. He stepped out and fired randomly at the rooms around him. One bullet pierced a wall and hit a boy, who is expected to survive.
Unable to enter the school, Neal got back into the truck and left, Johnston said.
“It is monumental that that school went on lockdown,” Johnston said Tuesday. “It would’ve been a horrific bloodbath.”
Back on the road, officials said Neal focused on a couple in another car, chasing them down and deliberately crashing into their vehicle. Neal, who was wearing a bullet proof vest, shot them when they exited their stopped car, Johnston said. The woman, was killed, but the male survived.
During that confrontation, a man who witnessed the crash pulled over to help, Johnston said. Neal shot at the man, who ran off, and then stole the man’s car.
Neal was shooting at and chasing another vehicle moments later when two police officers spotted him.
The officers began pursing Neal, who fired at them. The officers rammed the gunman's car, forcing it off the road. The officers then engaged in a furious gun battle with Neal, killing him, Johnston said. The officers were uninjured.
The string of violence ended at 8:19 a.m.
Authorities said he was armed with one semi-automatic assault-style rifle and two handguns. A second rifle was later discovered during a search, officials said.
None of the guns were legally in Neal’s possession, Johnston said. The two rifles were “homemade” and unregistered and the two pistols were registered to another person, he said.
A signed court order following Neal’s arrest in January for attacking his neighbor shows he was ordered on April 1 to surrender all firearms.
Johnston said deputies were familiar with the gunman.
“We have a history with him,” Johnston said. “He was out on bail for assault with a deadly weapon that occurred in January. He was not law enforcement friendly.”
Tehama CountyDist. Atty. Gregg Cohen said he saw an increasing social problem underlying the incident.
“We see a dramatic problem with mental health, drugs, alcohol, poverty and firearms. That mix is a tremendous problem. It is growing,” he said. “I’m not speaking just to Tehama County. This is a concern, it appears nationwide.
“We’re all suffering the same epidemic. It’s the deadly combination of those in that mix. Mental health, drugs, alcohol, poverty, firearms.”
Rancho Tehama is still reeling from Neal’s rampage.
“We are all still shaken and worried but glad that everyone has been so loving and supportive,” Aly Monroy of Corning told the Los Angeles Times. Monroy’s cousin Alejandro Hernandez, 6, was shot at Rancho Tehama Elementary School when the gunman crashed through the gates and shot into classrooms.
On Wednesday morning, the doors to Rancho Tehama Elementary were locked, as classes were canceled until Thanksgiving.
“Our beautiful little school,” said Jayne Barnes-Vinson, whose grandchildren attended the school. “Just babies. … I have never loved a school more in all my life.”
She shared a photograph of the children of the tiny Rancho Tehama Elementary school taken last year. The students stand with their teachers in a heart shape, forming small hearts with their hands. They are on the same spot on the playground where a gunman Tuesday morning stood and shot into their classrooms.
“I want the world to see what this world has come to,” she said.
Six-year-old Alejandro was the only person shot at the school. On Wednesday morning, the boy was at UC Davis, awaiting surgery to remove a bullet from his chest.
Monroy has started a donation page on GoFundMe for her cousin. The page shows a picture of the boy beside his father, beaming beneath the brim of a white kindergarten graduation cap.
At a small market at the entrance to the subdivision, one man said Tuesday that his cousin’s daughter was afraid to leave the house after the gunman shot into their car.
“Her daughter, she didn't even want to get out of the house for now. She just wants to stay home. Wants nothing with the outside,” said the man, who would not give his name
Two other men said children in their family — pupils at the school ages 6 to 9 — had similar reactions.
"All of our nephews, they say they want to get out of this school. But I tell them, where do you want to go? Do you want to go to Vegas? Or to Texas?” the man said.
In the shooting’s aftermath, residents say the gunman was often heard firing weapons.
Marty Mikkelsen lived down the street from Neal, she said. She'd never spoken to him, but she knew him because every night for the past year or so, he would shoot guns for about 10 minutes.
"You'll hear big guns and little ones. You hear a boom-boom-boom that goes on forever, then sometimes you'll hear pops," Mikkelsen said. Sometimes a neighbor would call the police, but he was usually gone by the time they arrived, Mikkelsen said.
Harry Garcia, a 20-year resident of Tehama Ranch, said he did not know Neal, which surprised him because of the extremely small size of the community.
“We try to know the good people out here, the bad, who to avoid,” he said.
But Garcia faulted the Tehama County sheriff’s department for not spending more time in the community.