A “madman on the loose” who went on a rampage throughout Rancho Tehama, California, first killed his wife and fatally shot a neighbor before heading to the local elementary school, where he fired through classroom windows after being locked out of the building, an act credited with saving the lives of many children and staff members inside, authorities said. His wife’s body was discovered under the floorboards of the home.
Kevin Janson Neal, a “pot farmer” who was awaiting trial for an assault case against the same neighbor, went on a 45-minute rampage Tuesday that ended six lives, randomly targeting other people for death, engaging in carjackings, and wounding 10 others, including small children, throughout the tiny rural community in northern California.
“We believe that’s probably what started this whole event,” Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston told reporters at a press conference. Neighbors had reported a domestic violence incident at the home Monday.
The gunman, enraged by an ongoing case with a neighbor after a descent into paranoia, wielded a semi-automatic rifle and two handguns during the rampage and was killed by police at the scene, bringing the total death toll to six. No children were among the dead, but at least two children were shot, both boys, one in the school and one in a truck who was on his way to school, sheriff’s officials said. The second child’s mother was also shot and has life-threatening injuries, officials said, although neither boy has critical wounds. One of the children was identified as Alejandro Hernandez, 6, by family members, who established a GoFundMe account. The family wrote that Alex, the child in the school, was recovering from surgery to remove a bullet from his foot and was also shot in the chest:
According to the Sacramento Bee, “The Tehama County District’s Attorney’s Office confirmed that Kevin Janson Neal, 43, was the shooter.” The Bee reported that Neal sometimes used the last name Smith. The shooting spree unfolded in seven locations on November 14, starting near Neal’s home. Distraught parents rushed to the school seeking information on their children. Witnesses described children screaming at the school as bullets were shot into classrooms through outside windows.
It could have been even worse. Neal tried to get inside the school, but the quick lockdown stopped him; unable to get in, he turned his attention elsewhere. He even rammed a vehicle through the school gates. “Officials say the gunman was wearing a load bearing vest — similar to what soldiers wear to carry their ammo,” reports CBS News.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Neal, Out on Bail on a Stabbing Case, Murdered His Wife & ‘Put Her Body’ in a ‘Hole in the Floor’
Kevin Janson Neal is believed to have killed his wife, whose name hasn’t been released, on Monday, before killing his neighbor and going on the shooting spree.
“We were looking for his wife, couldn’t find her yesterday. We located her dead body concealed under the floor of the residence,” Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston told reporters.
“There was a hole cut in the floor….we’re confident that he murdered her, shot her at some point on Monday, and just put her body in the hole in the floor and just covered it up,” Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston told reporters Wednesday at a press conference.
Neal’s mother told The Associated Press that he seemed defeated in their last call, on Monday saying, “Mom it’s all over now. I have done everything I could do and I am fighting against everyone who lives in this area.”
The mother told the AP that her son had recently married the slain woman, who was his longtime girlfriend.
“All of a sudden, now I’m on a cliff and there’s nowhere to go,” Neal’s mother recalled him saying, according to The Associated Press. “No matter where I go for help here I get nobody who will help me. All they are doing is trying to execute me here.”
There were plenty of warning signs that Neal was a ticking time bomb, and he was under a court order to not possess weapons. However, the sheriff said authorities weren’t aware of that provision in a restraining order against Neal. According to USA Today, “Two of the guns used in the Tehama County mass shooting on Tuesday were homemade, while the other two were not registered to the shooter.”
Neal was already in trouble with the law before the shooting rampage. Police were at his property for a domestic violence call the day before the mass shooting. District Attorney Gregg Cohen told The Sacramento Bee that “Neal was currently being prosecuted by his office for assault with a deadly weapon and a stabbing that had occurred earlier this year,” the newspaper reported.
A Red Bluff Daily News crime log from February 2017 reported: “Kevin Janson Neal: 43, of Corning was arrested Tuesday in the 6900 block of Bobcat Lane in Rancho Tehama. He was booked into Tehama County Jail on the charges of assault with deadly weapon not firearm or force, great bodily injury likely, battery on person, crime against elder or dependent adult, discharge firearm with gross negligence and false imprisonment with violence. Bail was $160,000.” However, the Red Bluff Daily News quoted the DA as saying that “Neal was out of jail on $300,000 bail and had been since shortly after the January incident.”
The District Attorney told the Bee that the rampage started by Neal’s home, although he wasn’t yet sure of the motive, and he said that the previous incident involved two of Neal’s neighbors. According to Action News Now, “The shooting started at Bobcat Lane where the suspected shooter lived. Two people were killed at this location, one was a neighbor…the female neighbor is said to be someone the shooter had a dispute with in January.”
According to the Red Bluff Daily News, Neal’s trial would have been in January 2018, and, in the past incident, the DA “said Neal had a long-running dispute with his neighbors and during the January incident allegedly shot through a wooden fence at two female neighbors as they walked along the fence. Neal then jumped the fence, confronted the women, stabbed one and took a cellphone from the other.”
According to the Bee, the assistant sheriff said Neal was hit with “a restraining order following the January arrest that would have prevented him from owning firearms for at least a period of time.” The restraining order was taken out by a woman named Hailey Poland, the Los Angeles Times reported, and it said that Neal harassed his neighbors “on a daily basis,” both verbally and physically, stabbing one of them.
The Record Searchlight reported: “A helicopter medical crew reported they were transporting a 6-year-old victim to Mercy Medical Center in Redding. The child had two gunshot wounds, according to emergency scanner traffic. A second child also was reported to have been shot in the right leg, according to emergency dispatch reports. A 30-year-old man was also being taken to the hospital with a gunshot wound to the right thigh, according to emergency dispatch reports.”
Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston said in an early brief news conference that a call came in of multiple shots fired. “That evolved into multiple victims and multiple shots at the elementary school. I am told at this point that the suspected shooter is deceased from law enforcement bullets.” He added, “I know that we have medevaced (airlifted) a number of students. I know the school has been cleared. I know that we have the children who were attending school in a safe location at this time. You now know really what I know.” However, later reports came in that four were dead, and the school was just one piece of a complex series of crime scenes.
In a later update, Johnston grew emotional, saying, “Listen, people died here today, folks. This is a very tragic event for all of us. There are children involved. It’s an emotional thing.”
Johnston said Wednesday, when asked about a motive, “I think he had a desire to kill as many people as he could.”
2. Neal’s Sister Says Her Brother Had Growing Paranoia, Including Anti-Government Beliefs, & Was Originally From North Carolina
Neal’s sister, Sheridan Orr, told The New York Daily News that he was originally from Raleigh, North Carolina, and moved to California because he loved nature. He was growing increasingly paranoid, she said in the interview, and made “exhausting” phone calls to his mother in which he “often detailed his precarious welfare and the growing suspicion that his neighbors were running a methamphetamine lab.”
“He would get wound up and I think she spent a lot of time calming him down,” Sheridan Orr told the Daily News. “He would be irrational, irate and uncontrollable, and scream and yell. It was difficult to manage him. I don’t know how she put up with it.” She called for more gun control in the country and told the newspaper: “If he couldn’t get the health care he needed, he had zero business with guns,” she said.
Orr told the Los Angeles Times that her brother had long struggled with mental illness, and had anti-government beliefs. He often talked about conspiracy theories run by the government, she said.
“It’s like he had been possessed and he would often not remember or he’d feel so horrible about what he had done. One day he got mad at me because of the way the washing machine sounded,” Orr told the newspaper.
“The whole thing is tragic. Our hearts are heavy for what that community is dealing with,” Orr told the Times. “Make sure that you tell people this: let them know our hearts are broken for that community and the families.”
Whatever his twisted reasons, Neal decided to take his fury out on the town, including small children studying in the local school.
Horrifically, one eyewitness described witnessing the gunman fire bullets through classroom windows, injuring Alejandro. KRCR-TV initially reported that there might be two gunmen in the immediate chaos of the shooting aftermath, but sheriff’s officials later confirmed that Neal acted alone.
The television station described how a witness had given a “chilling account,” adding that the witness described how the shooter fired bullets through classroom windows: “(The witness) said the series of shots came through the classroom windows, hitting one student…a young boy was shot in the foot and the chest. He said the child was alert and talking.” The television station added that the gunman was described as being in his 30’s-40’s “dressed in green cammo.” In past mass shootings, eyewitness accounts of more than one shooter have often proven to be wrong.
Sheriff’s officials confirmed that Neal fired into the school from the outside of it. “The shooter targeted the school from outside the school and shot inside the school with multiple rounds,” Johnston said to the news media.
Authorities say that the rampage may have ignited with a domestic violence situation, although they haven’t detailed it. Johnston later said that authorities had “received reports about a domestic violence incident that involved the suspected shooter.” The FBI was assisting at the scene.
Another witness, a parent named Salvador Tello, was taking his children to the elementary school “when the gunman fired at a truck in front of him. He said he saw bullets hit the truck in front of him, so he made his children get down and put his truck in reverse,” the Record Searchlight reported. Sheriff’s officials said that the school almost certainly saved lives by quickly going into lockdown, but the shooter then randomly targeted other people.
3. Neal Was Working in California as a ‘Pot Farmer’
In California, Neal had found work in the marijuana industry, working as a “pot farmer,” according to The Associated Press. His sister said he had a “violent temper” and she thought he was addicted to drugs, AP reported.
“He was working as a pot farmer and had recently married his longtime girlfriend,” according to AP. “In her last few talks with her son, Neal’s mother said he sounded desperate and despairing over his relationship with his neighbors, who he said were cooking meth and creating fumes that were harming his nine dogs,” AP reported of the interview with Neal’s mother.
Although the school shooting received a lot of the attention, equally horrific was the rest of the rampage, as Kevin Janson Neal drove through town, picking people randomly to shoot, according to authorities. Johnston said that Neal “stole a white pickup and drove it through town, doing ‘several random drive-by shootings of residences’ in the community of about 1,500 people west of Corning,” reported the Sacramento Bee. “We know of no real connection to any of the victims,” Johnston said. “Most of the victims in this case appear to be random selections.” According to CBS, “The gunman crashed a pickup struck, stole another car and then started shooting.”
The sheriff’s official, speaking just after noon on November 14, as news of the mass shooting broke, said about 100 law enforcement personnel were in Rancho Tehama with multiple scenes. “I can think of at least five scenes I have been told about. We are spread thin… we are still requesting ambulances,” Johnston said, although the number of crime scenes later expanded to seven.
According to the Searchlight Record, “The rampage all started shortly after 8 a.m. near Bobcat and Fawn lanes, where the gunman reportedly stole two different vehicles. It ended in a shootout with two sheriff’s deputies. The deputies, who weren’t injured, found the gunman dead inside a car, and they also found the semiautomatic rifle and two handguns they say he used.”
Reporter Sara Stinson, writing on Twitter, reported that Johnston himself aided the mother and wounded child in the truck. “Assistant Sheriff Johnston says he ran into the woman in this truck who was attempting to drive herself to the hospital, but he got her and her injured child help as she was severely injured. She did tell Johnston that she saw the shooter and did not know him at all,” she wrote. Stinson reported that sheriff’s officials say the number of victims still might increase “as they are still investigating and looking for more victims as this is an extremely rural area.”
At one point, the shooter crashed a truck and “carjacked a driver for his small sedan. The suspect drove away in the car, and at some point, drove past a woman taking her children to school and fired gunshots ‘without provocation’ into their truck,” KCRA quoted Johnston as saying.
4. Neal Was Threatening Neighbors & Shooting Guns Recently
Neal’s neighbor told the news media early on that his roommate was shot and that the gunman was a felon named Kevin. The witness, Brian Flint, “said he received a call in the morning that his roommate was injured and that his truck had been stolen too,” reported The Record Searchlight, quoting him as saying, “The crazy thing is that the neighbor has been shooting a lot of bullets lately, hundreds of rounds, large magazines. We made it aware that this guy is crazy and he’s been threatening us.”
Flint described living near Neal as “hell.” He said, “I just feel like maybe there should have been more effort putting in to potentially stopping things like this.”
Another neighbor, Cristal Caravez, told the Associated Press that she heard “constant gunfire” from the area of his house, adding,“You could hear the yelling. He’d go off the hinges. It (shooting) would be during the day, during the night, I mean, it didn’t matter.”
“She and her father, who is president of the homeowners association, said neighbors would complain to the sheriff’s department, which referred the complaints back to the homeowners association,” AP reported.
Harry Garcia, manager of La Fortuna Market, told local reporter Jim Schultz that “one of his regular customers was killed” in the shooting, adding, “He came in here all the time. He was a nice man. He treated everyone with respect.” The victims’ ages and names have not yet been released.
Kelli Saam of KRCR News Channel 7 “spoke with a witness who works near where the shooting took place in Rancho Tehama” and that woman said that the screams of children echoed down the block. “We heard multiple shots, starting with about 10, and proceeding to about 90 shots, of a high powered some kind of rifle sounding. We heard a man and children screaming from my location, I’m about three blocks from the school, I could hear people screaming at the school,” she told the television station.
5. Parents Waited Frantically for News of Their Children & One Woman Described Rancho Tehama as a ‘Family Town’
Stinson, the reporter with Action News Now, reported that the road was blocked off with crime scene tape. It all made for an awful morning for many parents who had to wait to learn whether their children were OK. “Parents are in distress stuck behind road block not knowing the status of their kids at school in Rancho Tehama where the shooter ended up,” she wrote. One witness said 90-100 shots were fired. The first shooting scene was at a nearby home.
One of the children wounded, Alejandro Hernandez, is recovering in the hospital. His family also released the above photo with the GoFundMe account designed to help the boy. “Alejandro Hernandez, 6, was shot in the chest and right foot when a gunman opened fire on the Rancho Tehama Elementary School play yard. He was one of many victims of the mass shooting on 11/14/2017. His family needs prayers and support at this time and any donation and prayers are appreciated. Thank You,” his family wrote,” it reads.
“An employee with the Corning Unified School District said there were reports of an active shooter at the school, and there were confirmed injuries,” The San Francisco Chronicle reported. According to Action News Now, sheriff’s deputies put an end to the rampage. “Officers began chasing his vehicle then rammed him off the road and began to exchange gunfire with him. This led to the death of the shooter.”
A woman who lives near a crime scene told reporter Jim Schultz that the shooting spree has traumatized the normally peaceful community. “This is a family town,” she said to Schultz. “I don’t want it to be known as a Columbine.”