Rancho Tehama Staff, Students Praised for Saving Lives During Lockdown
The superintendent says only eight to 10 seconds passed between the time the lockdown was completed and when the gunman began shooting at the school.
Stories of heroism are emerging after staff members at the Rancho Tehama Elementary School were able to lockdown the building before a gunman on a deadly shooting rampage could enter.
On Tuesday, after 43-year-old Kevin Janson Neal killed his wife and two neighbors, he drove to Rancho Tehama Elementary School, where he fired 20 to 30 rounds at windows and walls with a semiautomatic rifle after he couldn’t gain access into the building.
Neal was eventually shot and killed by police after fleeing the school. Five people in total were killed by Neal, who has a history of mental health and a violent temper, according to his family.
Authorities credited school personnel for their quick actions in locking down the school when they first heard gunshots in the distance, according to the Associated Press. Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston called the quick lockdown “monumental” in saving lives.
“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,” says Johnston.
Secretary, Janitor Praised for Quick Actions Initiating Lockdown
School had not started when gunshots were first heard so students were outside playing and waiting for the bell to ring.
After hearing the shots, school secretary Sara Lobdell and school custodian John Hayburn ran out to get students and even parents dropping off their children into classrooms. Two of Lobdell’s children attend the school.
“She’s the one who put the school on lockdown with her quick thinking,” says Lobdell’s husband, John.
Corning Union Elementary School District superintendent Richard Fitzpatrick credits Hayburn for diverting the shooter while the rest of the staff completed the lockdown. The school’s lockdown was only two-thirds completed when Hayburn stuck his head around a building, drawing attention from Neal, who had just crashed his truck through a fence and a gate, according to USA Today.
Hayburn made eye contact with Neal, who fired shots at him with his rifle. The rifle then jammed and Neal had trouble re-loading ammunition.
“The custodian’s actions in diverting the attention from the shooter at that time gave us the much-needed seconds to complete the (lockdown) process,” says Fitzpatrick. “That amount of seconds was critical.”
Fitzpatrick says only eight to 10 seconds elapsed between the time the lockdown was complete and when the shooter appeared in the school’s quad.
“At that time, he could be clearly seen in the surveillance video shooting windows, shooting walls and shooting doors,” Fitzpatrick says.
Surveillance video also showed Neal trying to open locked doors to classrooms and the main office.
Randy Morehouse, the district’s head of maintenance and operations, says Neal “tried and tried and tried and tried to get into the kindergarten door,” but it was locked.
When he couldn’t gain access to the school, he walked to a field near the school and fired outward into a wooded area.
“It looked as if that was done in frustration,” says Fitzpatrick.
Teachers, Students Remain Calm During Lockdown
Jennifer Bauman, who teaches first and second grade, threw her body against her classroom door after it wouldn’t lock properly. Luckily, Neal skipped her classroom door.
“I braced myself against the door,” says Bauman. “I didn’t even think twice. I don’t feel like a hero. I did what I was supposed to do.”
Bauman says students were the true heroes during the lockdown. Fourth and fifth graders kept the first and second graders calm and informed her of any students who were injured by flying glass.
“The kids are the heroes. As soon as we told them to get in they got in and they got on the ground and they stayed quiet,” she says. “They were amazing. I couldn’t even imagine being in their situation as a student.”
Six-year-old Aileen Favela recalled ducking under her desk after hearing shots.
“I didn’t know what was happening and this boy was like, ‘Get down, get down!’” Favela recalled. “He did not want some people to get hurt.”
Only one student was injured during the six-minute ordeal. Six-year-old Alejandro Hernandez was shot in the chest and foot. A teacher and an aide applied direct pressure to his wounds. He is listed in fair condition at a local hospital.
“I had a student injured badly and I’m heartbroken about that, but there’s cause for hope,” says Fitzpatrick. “There’s cause for hope. If we can lockdown and we can eliminate ourselves as an apparent target, our kids can go home at the end.”