RANCHO TEHAMA RESERVE, Tehama County — A neighborhood dispute turned into the nation's latest mass shooting Tuesday when a gunman killed four people and wounded 10 others, choosing most of his victims at random in a rampage that spread to an elementary school in this rural community 115 miles north of Sacramento, authorities said.
The spree, which ranged over several locations and injured at least two children at Rancho Tehama Elementary School, ended when the killer — identified in several reports as Kevin Janson Neal — was shot dead by law enforcement officers.
The barrage of gunfire erupted around 8 a.m. near the man's home in Rancho Tehama Reserve, a community of about 1,500 people southwest of Red Bluff, and lasted about 45 minutes as the man stole two vehicles and drove around shooting people, including at the school attended by nearly 100 children, said the Tehama County sheriff's office.
Two people died near the gunman's home, including a woman living nearby with whom the shooter had a running dispute, said county Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston. Her name and those of the other victims have not been released. Johnston would not confirm that Neal was the gunman.
In January, the gunman was arrested in connection with an assault involving the woman, Johnston said, and a restraining order had been issued against him in connection with that arrest.
He also said the gunman had been out on bail and that police had responded to a "domestic violence" incident involving him Monday, but did not provide details.
After the initial shootings near the killer's home on Bobcat Lane, the gunman stole a vehicle and began driving toward the elementary school, shooting randomly at people and homes on the way, Johnston said.
"This guy was bent on driving by residences and arbitrarily shooting at them," Johnston said. "This guy was on a killing rampage."
At the school, teachers heard the sounds of gunfire and quickly ordered a lockdown. Almost simultaneously, the shooter drove onto the school property at high speed in a white pickup, came out of the truck with a semiautomatic rifle and started shooting, said Rick Fitzpatrick, superintendent of the Corning Union Elementary School District.
The gunman shot at classrooms and tried but failed to get inside, Johnston said. No students or school employees were among the dead.
"The quick action of the school officials saved countless lives and children," Johnston said. "It was monumental."
He said the wounded victims included at least one student inside the school and a woman and a child in a car outside, authorities said.
The woman's injuries were described by authorities as "life-threatening." Johnston said the woman "had no clue who he was or why" the shooter had opened fire.
"This was a bizarre, murderous rampage (to) get even with a neighbor," Johnston said.
Apparently "frustrated that he was unable to get into the classrooms," Johnston said, the gunman drove off. Over the course of the next quarter hour or so, he shot at several more people at random, crashed his stolen vehicle and commandeered another one.
The rampage ended at what Johnston described only as an "intersection," where two unidentified law enforcement officers spotted the man and forced his car off the road.
"The suspect shot at police out the window," Johnston said. "There was an exchange of gunfire, resulting in (the gunman's) death."
As the day went on, at least 100 officers collected evidence at seven crime scenes. They recovered a semiautomatic rifle, two handguns and at least one stolen vehicle. It was not immediately known whether the guns were registered to the killer, but Johnston said the man was not legally prohibited from possessing firearms.
Johnston said the number of casualties could increase and that relatives of the gunman were unaccounted for.
Near the school, a man who identified himself as Brian Flint said his roommate was one of the slain victims, and that the gunman was his neighbor, whom he identified as "Kevin."
Flint said the man had been acting "crazy" and firing guns before Tuesday, and had stolen his pickup truck during the rampage.
Another witness said the gunman was a local resident who was "known to fire weapons nonstop."
Juan Caravez, the president of the local homeowners' association, said his group had, in the past, received about two dozen complaints about the man.
"We can always hear him shooting," he said. "A lot of neighbors called. We would hear the shooting every day."
The proprietor of a coffee shop about a half-mile from the elementary school said she heard "at least 100 rounds" during Tuesday's shooting attack.
"After hearing the first 30 shots, we called 911," said Tiffany Rodgers, who owns Coffee Addiction. "I heard people yelling, 'Get down, get down.'''
Rodgers said she also heard the "yelping of a dog" she believed had been shot.
Sue Keating, who lives two blocks from the school, said a companion told her she heard many shots "and assumed someone was hunting."
Rancho Tehama Reserve is an unincorporated community. Its small downtown has a market, post office, an office building, a sandwich shop and the coffee shop. There is no stoplight.
"We've never had something like this here, so you don't think about it," Keating said.
Some of those wounded Tuesday were taken to Enloe Medical Center in Chico. Nicole Johansson, a spokeswoman for the medical center, said three people were treated and released and two patients remained hospitalized. She ,declined to disclose their conditions or say whether they were adults or children.
A review of the police shooting will be run by the Red Bluff Police Department with assistance from the county district attorney's office, the California Highway Patrol and the FBI.
The violence came within seven weeks of three other horrific mass killings across the country. On Oct. 1, a gunman opened fire from a high-rise Las Vegas hotel onto a country music festival, killing 58 and wounding 546. On Oct. 31, a man in a truck deliberately ran over people on a New York City bike path, killing eight and wounding 11. On Nov. 5, a gunman opened fire in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 and injuring 20.
Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein issued statements Tuesday deploring the violence in California. Brown said he was "saddened to hear about today's violence, which shockingly involved schoolchildren," and Feinstein asked, "When will this stop and how can we stop it?"
San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Annie Ma contributed to this report.
Jenna Lyons, Melody Gutierrez and Steve Rubenstein are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: [email protected] , [email protected] and [email protected] Twitter: @JennaJourno , @MelodyGutierrez @SteveRubeSF
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