RANCHO TEHAMA RESERVE, Calif. >> Teacher Jennifer Bauman threw herself against a classroom door that wouldn’t lock right, terrified that the gunman shooting up her small Northern California elementary school would barrel in and find the children huddled under desks.
Shooter Kevin Neal, 44, bypassed their door, taking out a window before he went on to attack a kindergarten class.
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.