RANCHO TEHAMA RESERVE, Calif. – A gunman driving vehicles and choosing his victims randomly opened fire “without provocation” in a small rural northern California town Tuesday, killing four people and injuring at least 10 others, including a pupil in a primary school, before the police shot him dead, authorities said.
The gunfire began shortly before 8 a.m. in the rural community of Rancho Tehama Reserve, an association of owners of modest homes and trailers in rolling oak forest dotted with grazing cattle, about 130 miles north of Sacramento.
The police offered no direct word of the perpetrator’s motive, but a sheriff’s official said the shooter’s neighbors had reported a domestic violence incident a day earlier.
Brian Flint told the Record Searchlight newspaper in the city of Redding that his neighbor, who he knows only as Kevin, was the shooter and that his roommate was among the victims. He said that the shooter also stole his truck.
“The crazy thing is that the neighbor has been shooting a lot of bullets lately, hundreds of rounds, great magazines,” Flint said. “We have been made aware that this man is crazy and he threatens us.”
Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston said officers received multiple 911 calls about gunfire at an intersection of two unpaved roads in the upper reaches of the sparsely populated area. Minutes later, more calls reporting shots fired flooded in from various locations, including a small primary school.
“It was very clear at the beginning that we had an individual that was random goals,” Johnston said.
Witnesses reported hearing gunshots and children screaming in Rancho Tehama elementary School, which is a class of students from kindergarten through the fifth grade.
Johnston said a student was shot on the school, and flown by helicopter to a hospital, and another student was injured in a car on the way to school. He said that no one was killed.
“The gunman aimed at the school from outside the school and shot inside the school with multiple rounds,” Johnston said.
The assistant to the sheriff said that the school locked its doors, and students and staff “sheltered place” to deputies brought them on a school bus and led to safety under heavy guard.
Johnston said authorities believe they know the identity of the shooter, but refused to release his name pending further investigation. He seems to have fired a semi-automatic rifle and two pistols at seven locations, authorities said.
The shooter in the first instance, stole a neighbor’s truck and then carjacked a second vehicle for the two deputies exchanged gunfire with him, Johnston said. No officers injured.
Salvador Tello said the shooter fired at a truck for him as he went to drop off his three children at school. Tello said he’s about three blocks from the school as bullets “large holes” in the truck.
He said that he forced his children to duck down, put his vehicle in reverse and ran to the children’s grandmother’s house.
“I have my children down and put my truck in reverse and went outside,” he said. “I don’t believe it, because I wake up, my children, to feed them cereals and put them in the truck and say, ‘we can go to school like a normal day.'”
On the way, he said that he saw a clear shot victim and the police in another scene.
The rural classification is described on its website as a “quiet, private country community” where “the people are friendly and the pace is relaxed.” The homeowner association website says that there are 2,016 lot in the community and 1,346 members with voting rights.
“It’s pretty quiet,” said the 14-year-old resident Vince Broff, who lives about a mile from the school, but was kept away from his home for more than three hours.
For an enforcement of the law against the smoking of marijuana agriculture was prevalent in the remote area a few years ago down and seemed to attract a crime, but “nothing of this is serious,” Broff said.
Elias reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writers Janie Har and Olga Rodriguez in San Francisco, Michael Balsamo in Los Angeles and researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York also contributed to this story.