A gunman killed four people in a remote Northern California community on Tuesday morning, but a much bigger death toll was averted when the killer was unable to break into an elementary school.
The staff at tiny Rancho Tehama Elementary School west of Corning moved quickly when they heard gunfire nearby just before classes were set to begin, Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston said.
Doors were locked and students dashed inside and hit the floors underneath desks and tables.
The shooter, who was killed by police at another site, rammed a stolen pickup through the school’s locked gate, walked into the schoolyard, and fired his rifle through windows and walls.
He tried doors, but the buildings at the Rancho Tehama Reserve school were secure. Only an outside bathroom was open, but the gunman found no one there.
After about six minutes, he left, apparently frustrated.
The school district said a student was wounded by gunfire and was in stable condition. Others were hurt by flying glass.
‘Could have been so much worse’
“This individual shooter was bent on engaging and killing people at random. I have to say this incident, as tragic and as bad as it is, could have been so much worse,” Johnston said, applauding the quick thinking of the school staff.
The gunfire that triggered the alert at the school came when the shooter fired from his vehicle into others while on his way to the school, about 2 miles from his home.
The gunman’s precise motives were unclear, but a dispute with a neighbor who was found dead Tuesday may have sparked the rampage in which there were seven shooting scenes.
“This is an individual who armed himself, I think with the motive of getting even with his neighbors and when it went that far (that someone was killed) he just went on a rampage,” Johnston said.
The killer apparently chose most of his victims at random, sometimes firing at passing motorists, homes and also gunning down someone after he purposely crashed into another car.
At least 10 people were wounded or hurt in the string of shootings in Rancho Tehama, about 125 northwest of Sacramento.
The gunman had a tactical vest with extra magazines for his guns, Johnston said, who viewed surveillance video of the shooting.
The wounded victims from the spree included a mother who was driving her children to school when the attacker opened fire on them “without provocation or warning,” the assistant sheriff said.