RANCHO TEHAMA RESERVE, Calif. >> A school secretary at a tiny elementary school rushed out to shoo children inside. A custodian swooped in, yelling “get into the classrooms,” at kids in the play yard.
Inside Rancho Tehama Elementary School, children and some parents huddled under desks as bullets riddled the tan and teal portable classrooms.
“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,” 6-year-old Aileen Favela recalled Wednesday.
She was in her class with about 15 first- and second-graders when shots came through the window Tuesday during the shooting rampage by 44-year-old Kevin Neal. Favela ducked under her desk as she heard shots — “like a lot.”
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.
Neal 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.
Authorities credited the quick action of school personnel, who jumped into lockdown mode, for saving dozens of students at the school with a student population of about 100 students 130 miles 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.
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.
Fitzpatrick said he met with teachers, aides and staff Wednesday. He said they did not want to talk to reporters and did not want their names made public.
“I am brokenhearted about the boy who was injured, but I am truly grateful we are not suffering any higher penalty,” he said.
Fitzpatrick declined to discuss the details of the lockdown procedure for security reasons.
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.
“Any time schools start to hear about something going on that could possibly pose a threat to their school, there’s got to be some sort of action that the school takes,” said Bridges, a school resource officer in Baltimore County, Maryland.
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.