Neighbor shot by California gunman lived in fear of him

RANCHO TEHAMA RESERVE, Calif. (AP) — One of the first victims of a Northern California gunman told a judge earlier this year that she and her family lived in fear of him because he was violent and unpredictable, firing off guns at all hours and threatening her with "all kinds of perverted things."

CAshooting scene

Yellow tags mark where bullet casings found at one of the scenes of a shooting spree at Rancho Tehama Reserve, near Corning, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017. Law enforcement says that five people, including the shooter were killed, and several people including some children were injured during the shooting spree that occurred at multiple locations. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)


A sheriff's deputy on April 1 handed Kevin Janson Neal a court order to stay away from his neighbor Hailey Suzanne Poland and her family, and barred him from possessing guns.

Records show Neal certified that he surrendered his weapons in February, but Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston said they had recovered two illegal homemade assault rifles and two handguns registered to someone else.

On Tuesday, Neal shot and killed the 34-year-old woman before embarking on what authorities called a "murderous rampage" through a neighborhood in Tehama County about 130 miles (209 kilometers) north of Sacramento.

Neal killed five people and wounded at least eight others before sheriff's deputies fatally shot him during a gun battle, Johnston said.

Several other neighbors had repeatedly reported that Neal was firing hundreds of rounds at his property.

At Wednesday's news conference, Johnston initially said Neal "was not prohibited from owning firearms" but later acknowledged the protective order against him.

After being pressed by reporters on why police did not act when Neal was in clear violation of his court order, Johnston obliquely replied: "The law is only for people who obey it."

Poland's slaying underscored the difficulty of enforcing restraining orders when suspects ignore them, Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson said.

"Law enforcement often doesn't realize it has a problem until it's too late," Levenson said.

Neal was arrested and charged with stabbing Poland and attacking her mother-in-law during a Jan. 31 encounter in their rural neighborhood. Poland filed for a restraining order a week later, writing in a plea to a judge that Neal "is very unpredictable and unstable ... has anger issues."

Tehama County district attorney Gregg Cohen said he sought a protective order for Poland and her mother-in-law after Neal's release from jail on bail.

"Simply put, the victims were very scared of him," Cohen said.

Neal was also known to have violent squabbles with his wife.

The gunman's sister, Sheridan Orr, said her brother had struggled with mental illness throughout his life and at times had a violent temper.

She said Neal had "no business" owning firearms.

At a tense news conference Wednesday, Johnston conceded that neighbors had repeatedly complained about Kevin Janson Neal firing hundreds of rounds from his house.

Johnston said authorities responded to calls several times, but the 44-year-old Neal wouldn't open the door, so they left.

"He was not law enforcement friendly. He would not come to the door," Johnston said. "You have to understand we can't anticipate what people are going to do. We don't have a crystal ball."

The evidence that emerged Wednesday, however, along with residents' statements raised questions about whether lawlessness was occasionally tolerated.

The community is a sparsely populated area of rolling woodlands dotted with grazing cattle.

"There's hardly any police presence out here," said Dillon Elliot, who moved away in 2001, though his parents still live there. "Every so often you'll see them if it's super bad."

He said his father, who was on the homeowners' association board, was threatened in the late '80s and early '90s during a dispute with a neighbor and deputies never responded.

"It's almost like they think we're lawless out here and they just don't care," he said.

Police found the bullet-riddled body of Neal's wife stuffed under the floorboards of their home in the rural community of Rancho Tehama Reserve. They believe her slaying was the start of the rampage.

Neal then shot two neighbors in an apparent act of revenge before he went looking for random victims at the community's elementary school and several other locations.

During the rampage that lasted 25 minutes, Neal tried and failed to get into Rancho Tehama Elementary School, but fired into the school from the outside.

Six-year-old Alejandro Hernandez was in his classroom when one of Neal's bullets came through the window and hit him in the chest.

His aunt, Rosa A. Monroy, said he was at a Sacramento hospital awaiting surgery on his foot. It's not clear when they will operate on the more serious wound to his upper chest and right arm, she said.

"I just pray that we can all be strong together," she tearfully told a crowd of dozens of people that gathered for a vigil to honor the victims on Wednesday night.

___

Elias reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writers Jocelyn Gecker, Janie Har and Olga Rodriguez also contributed from San Francisco.


Children quieted others at California school as gunman fired

By DON THOMPSON and RICH PEDRONCELLI ,  Associated Press

RANCHO TEHAMA RESERVE, Calif. (AP) — Teacher Jennifer Bauman threw herself against a classroom door that wouldn't lock right, terrified that the gunman shooting outside her small Northern California elementary school would barrel in and find the children huddled under desks.

CAshooting teacher

Lynda Patton, left, and Shawnee Flournoy, employees of the Corning Union Elementary School District, react as district superintendent, Rick Fitzpatrick, discusses the shooting rampage by Kevin Janson Neal, during a news conference Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, in Corning, Calif. Neal went on a shooting spree, Tuesday, which included an attack on the Rancho Tehama Elementary School, where one student was injured. Neal killed five people, including his wife, before being shot and killed by Tehama County Sheriff's deputies. Fitzpatrick cited quick action by teachers and employees for locking down the school which prevented Neal from entering any of the classrooms. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)


Shooter Kevin Neal, 44, bypassed their door, taking out a window before he went on to attack a kindergarten class in another portable building.

Despite her terror, Bauman, who teaches first and second grade, couldn't stop praising the pupils who stayed calm. She said fourth- and fifth-graders quieted the younger ones, and let her know which ones had been slightly wounded by flying glass.

"I braced myself against the door. I didn't even think twice. I don't feel like a hero. I did what I was supposed to do," she said. "The kids are the heroes."

Authorities credited the quick action of school personnel, who jumped into lockdown mode as soon as they heard gunshots Tuesday morning, for saving dozens of students at Rancho Tehama Elementary School. The school has about 100 students and is about 130 miles (209 kilometers) north of Sacramento.

"I really, truly believe we would have had a horrific bloodbath at that school if that school hadn't taken the action that it did," Assistant Tehama County Sheriff Phil Johnston said.

School secretary Sara Lobdell rushed out to shoo children inside while John Hayburn, a custodian, swooped into the play yard, yelling at stragglers "get into the classrooms."

"Without them it would have been much, much worse," Jay Lobdell, who is married to Sara, told a packed community vigil Wednesday night.

Later he said their two children attend the school.

"She's the one who put the school on lockdown with her quick thinking," he said, choking up. He said she huddled on the floor during the gunfire, sending out emails.

Aileen Favela, 6, said she was in her class with about 15 first- and second-graders when shots came through the window. Favela ducked under her desk as she heard shots — "like a lot."

"I didn't know what was happening and this boy was like, 'Get down, get down!' He did not want some people to get hurt," she said.

Randy Morehouse, the district's maintenance and operations head, said Neal "tried and tried and tried and tried to get into the kindergarten door," but it was locked.

The gunman then went to the back side of the cafeteria and reloaded, Morehouse said. He came onto the playground and shot at a passing car before running back to his vehicle and driving off.

Corning Union Elementary School District Superintendent Richard Fitzpatrick said there were many heroics during Tuesday's incident, starting with the school secretary quickly recognizing the threat.

He said it "made all the difference between 100 kids being around today and dozens being shot or killed." One student was injured and remains hospitalized.

"I am brokenhearted about the boy who was injured, but I am truly grateful we are not suffering any higher penalty," he said.

Bauman, the teacher, said she admired the students most of all.

"As soon as we told them to get in they got in and they got on the ground and they stayed quiet," she said. "They were amazing. I couldn't even imagine being in their situation as a student."

Don Bridges, president of the National Association of School Resource Officers, said that since the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, virtually every school district in the country has adopted and regularly practices an emergency plan that includes lockdown drills.

Typically, classroom doors are locked, lights turned off and blinds drawn. Students silently line walls or crouch to avoid being seen by an intruder.

Inside the school Aileen Favela was worried about her brother, a fourth grader.

"I thought somebody was trying to, like, get into the school to kill people," Aileen said.

___

Associated Press writers Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York and Juliet Williams and Janie Har in San Francisco also contributed to this report.