RANCHO TEHAMA, Calif. — 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 gunman Kevin Janson Neal, 44, likely began a shooting spree after killing his wife with several gunshots and hiding her beneath the floor.
Johnston said law enforcement officers found the woman’s body during a search 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.”
The sheriff’s department initially believed Neal had killed four other people. The discovery of the woman’s body has raised the death count by one.
The gunman had launched a shooting rampage in the community of 1,500 on Tuesday morning when he gunned down a neighbor and stole a pickup truck, according to the Tehama County Sheriff’s department.
Driving through a twisting subdivision, he blasted away randomly at motorists and homes and crashed through the gates of the Rancho Tehama Elementary School just as classes were to begin. Unable to enter the school, the gunman fired into its windows and walls and eventually fled.
The violence came to an end after about 45 minutes when the gunman was shot and killed by two law enforcement officers during a gun battle.
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.
The shooter killed four adults and injured at least 10 people, including two children, according to authorities. Although officials have yet to release his name, family members have identified him as Kevin Janson Neal, 44.
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 the 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 the University of California, 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.
“Cops only come in here when they feel they have to make a quota. That’s what we call it,” he said. “They don’t come out here and try to get to know the community.”