School administrators in Rancho Tehama Reserve, California, apparently saved young students’ lives when they put the elementary school on lockdown amid Tuesday morning’s mass shooting. During the 45-minute string of shootings at seven locations throughout the Northern California subdivision, two children were injured, but no students were among those killed by gunman Kevin Janson Neal (whose identity was confirmed by the Sacramento Bee). Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston said the school lockdown prevented what could have been a far greater tragedy: “The quick action of those school officials, there is no doubt in my mind, saved countless lives.”
Rancho Tehama School, which has an enrollment of around 100 students, was one stop in the middle of the shooter’s seemingly random rampage. (Update, 1:53 p.m.: The sheriff’s office announced that Neal first killed his wife and hid her body in their home.) According to national and local reports, Neal shot two neighbors with whom he’d been feuding, including a woman who had a restraining order against him for a previous violent attack, then sped away in a stolen truck. “The bell had not rang, roll had not been taken, when the shots were heard,” said Corning Union Elementary School District Superintendent Richard Fitzpatrick. Students, parents, and teachers rushed into classrooms, locked doors, and sheltered in place under desks. “This was a question of minutes,” Fitzpatrick added.
Neal crashed his vehicle through the school gates but was unable to enter classrooms, so he stayed outside the school for six minutes and fired through the windows and walls before continuing his shooting spree elsewhere and being fatally shot by law enforcement. He wounded one student, who was taken by helicopter to a hospital.
Two-thirds of schools in America practice active-shooter lockdown scenarios. While these shelter-in-place drills have incurred controversy because they scare children, in the case of Rancho Tehama, the lockdown procedure kept students safe.