Kevin Janson Neal’s deadly rampage in Tehama County apparently began Monday night when he shot his wife to death with multiple rounds, then hid her body under the floor of their ramshackle trailer, authorities said.
Armed with two semiautomatic rifles he had made illegally, Neal set out early Tuesday on a shooting spree that left a total of six people dead – including Neal – and eight people injured, seven of them children, Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston said at a news conference Wednesday.
Calling Neal, 44, “a madman on the loose,” Johnston said the gunman drove the streets of Rancho Tehama firing randomly at homes and structures. Johnston asked residents to check on their neighbors to ensure that they all are safe after the violent outbreak.
“I don’t know what his motive was,” Johnston said. “I think he had a desire to kill as many people as he could, and whether or not he had a desire to die at the hands of police I don’t know.”
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Johnston said there was a history of domestic violence calls to the Neal home, as well as calls for deputies to respond to shots being fired. He said Neal was “not law enforcement friendly” and would not come to the door when deputies knocked. At least twice, he said, deputies placed the home under surveillance in hopes that he would emerge, but he never did.
Authorities believe Neal killed his wife Monday night by shooting her to death, then hid the body under the floor and covered it up. Neal called his mother that night in North Carolina, telling her “it’s all over now,” the Associated Press reported.
Johnston did not disclose Neal’s wife’s name, but Neal’s sister, Sheridan Orr of Cary, N.C., identified her as the former Barbara Glisan.
Orr said her brother suffered from delusions and other mental health issues for years; his problems had reached the point that the Monday night phone to his mom call hardly raised a red flag with family members back in North Carolina.
“We had calls like that for 20 years,” Orr said. “You’d get immune.”
Johnston said the first call for help came into the sheriff’s dispatch center at 7:54 a.m. By 8:19 a.m. law enforcement officers had confronted Neal and killed him.
“Everything took place between these times,” he said. “It’s not very long, (but) when you’re out in the field and this is going on, this seems like forever.”
Neal was driving and firing randomly as he approached Rancho Tehama Elementary School. The sound of gunshots prompted school officials to lock down the facility before Neal arrived. It was a move that Johnston said likely saved many lives.
“It’s monumental that the school went on lockdown,” Johnston said. “I really, truly believe that we would have had a horrific bloodbath at that school.
“I can’t say how important that is.”
Neal apparently became frustrated at his inability to get into the school, and left after a time, Johnston said.
Johnston said authorities found three victims at two separate scenes on Bobcat Lane, one apparently Neal’s wife, and the second a woman who was the victim of an assault by Neal that landed him in jail in January on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon.
Another victim, a woman, was found along a roadway at a separate crime scene, and the fifth shooting victim was the father of a student at the school.
Johnston said four of the seven children injured were hurt at the school, with one of them shot and in critical condition at UC Davis Medical Center. The others were hurt by flying glass or debris, he said.
Neal was not supposed to own weapons. A protective order issued as a result of his January assault arrest required him to turn in any firearms in his possession, Johnston said.
Tehama County Superior Court records show he was charged in the January incident with assault, false imprisonment, battery and other charges in connection with an attack on two women in his neighborhood. He was accused of firing shots at the two women, stabbing one of them, and “holding them hostage for a period of time,” District Attorney Gregg Cohen said Wednesday. Neal was released on $160,000 bail.
Cohen said in a video news release Wednesday that the protective order was issued in late February, after Neal was released on bail and the two women he was accused of assaulting filed a complaint. “The two victims were scared and concerned (about) Neal attacking them,” Cohen said. “Neal harassed them repeatedly since being out on bail by repeatedly calling the California Department of Forestry, or Cal Fire, and claiming that he smelled smells, believing them to be manufacturing methamphetamine.”
The sheriff said Wednesday he did not yet know whether any firearms were turned in after the protective order was issued, but said the weapons Neal used Tuesday were made illegally at his home and unregistered. Neal used multi-round clips for the semiautomatic rifles, Johnston said, and also was armed with two handguns that were not registered to him.
“A number of magazine firearm clips were found (at the school) so I believe during his assault of the school he lost some of his ammunition,” Johnston said. “I think he became frustrated, ‘I’m here too long.’
“There’s no doubt that he didn’t want to give up. So he elected to find other targets.”
Neal’s shooting spree included firing at homes and passing vehicles. “He chased people with his vehicle shooting at them,” Johnston said.
Among those who were shot was a woman driving her children to school in a Ford F-250 pickup truck. Johnston said she had a concealed carry permit and pulled out her handgun, but was not able to fire before Neal fled after “dumping eight or so rounds into the side panel of her driver’s door.”
Another victim was Jessie Sanders, who said Wednesday that he was at the school when the shooter opened fire.
Sanders said he yelled at the gunman to shoot at him instead of the classrooms, and Neal turned and fired, grazing Sanders’ right forearm. “That man smiled at me and started shooting at me,” Sanders said. “I got shot telling that guy to stop shooting at kids, shoot at me.
“He missed me with a lot of bullets, but one of them got me.”
Sanders estimated that the gunman fired at least 60 rounds at the school.
“I don’t know how come I didn’t get shot with more, but it’s better my life than all those kids he was shooting at,” Sanders said. “Who does that to women and children?”
Sanders was interviewed Wednesday on Bobcat Lane, where he was passing by Neal’s home with Hailey Suzanne Poland, who Neal had stabbed in the confrontation in January as she was out walking the neighborhood with Diana Lee Steel.
“Nice day out, you go for a walk, and he just decided to come out and he shot at us and didn’t hit us,” Poland said. “But he wouldn’t let us go, he held us captive right in front of his house, and he proceeded to go after her. Me protecting her, he stabbed me in the process, almost went through the pancreas.
“This went on for like 15 minutes, fighting this guy, 15 very long minutes.”
Poland said Neal bailed out of jail within two hours of being arrested in that incident.
“He used to be a nice guy, but literally with the snap of a finger he’d go crazy,” she said.
There were no overt signs of the violence Wednesday. Neal’s home – a trailer with junk, cars and tools scattered around the front – sat without any sign of law enforcement or crime scene tape. The same was true at the school, which remained closed.
Cohen, the DA, said Neal had been arrested in North Carolina in 1989 for disorderly conduct and obstructing a peace officer, in 1992 for possession of marijuana with intent to sell, and in 2006 for assault with a deadly weapon. He was also arrested in California in 2013 on a hit-and-run charge.
But in each case, he wasn’t convicted of a crime, Cohen said.
Neal was remembered by his family Wednesday as a decent but troubled man who somehow went astray.
“We’re feeling horrible for those people out there,” said his uncle Ed. “We’re not this kind of people.”
Speaking from the family’s home in Raleigh, N.C., the uncle said the family hadn’t received official word from the Tehama County authorities until Wednesday morning, when a sheriff’s deputy called.
The uncle said Neal, who was raised in North Carolina, was intelligent but struggled all his life with dyslexia. He attended East Carolina University for a while, studying music. He moved to California around a decade ago to work as an airplane mechanic, but the job opportunity apparently didn’t pan out and Neal was drifting through various odd jobs, including fixing up old cars and selling them.
“Delivering pizzas, whatever,” his uncle said.
His sister, Orr, told The Bee that her brother had suffered emotional problems for years. As early as the eighth grade he was placed in a drug rehabilitation facility in North Carolina for two weeks in the belief that his problems were drug related, she said.
As he grew older, she said Neal felt hemmed in by his surroundings in North Carolina and moved to rural California as a way of escaping his old life. “He always had a passion for the mountains and California and the wide open spaces,” she said. “They seemed really happy in the beginning. They had many years there, where they were hiking the mountains.”
But the situation turned dark again when new neighbors moved in. He told family members back in North Carolina that the new neighbors were cooking methamphetamine and he called the police several times to investigate.
“He said the neighbors were cooking meth and the fumes were affecting their health, and their dogs,” Orr said. Neal also shot videos of the neighbors driving by his house, giving him the finger, she said.
“A small thing would set him off exponentially,” she said. “It continued to escalate into this neighborhood feud.”
Orr said family members had begged him for years to get medications for his mental illness, but he steadfastly refused. “He refused to do anything because he didn’t want the government to get his secret information,” she said.
Orr said her mother would commiserate over the phone with Barbara about getting help for Neal and possibly having him committed to an institution.
“Their options were limited,” Orr said. “It’s impossible to commit a grown man for more than 24 or 36 hours and they were afraid that when he got out, he would be more enraged.”
Family members also weren’t sure what to make of his claims about the neighbors’ drug activities. “He did have grandiose ideas and delusions,” Orr said.
His mother, who was identified only as Anne, told the Associated Press that her son was at the end of his rope because of the feud. “Mom, it’s all over now,” he told her in a phone call Monday, according to AP. “I have done everything I could do and I am fighting against everyone who lives in this area.”
Neighbors said they had complained to the Sheriff’s Department that Neal was firing off rounds of ammunition in his neighborhood.
“My understanding is they took all his weapons (after the January arrest),” his uncle Ed said. “Where in the name of Christ did he get all of that stuff?”
Court records show one of the charges from January included the illegal possession “of an assault weapon” described as an AR-15 Bushmaster rifle.
Federal officials in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Sacramento have cracked down in recent years on individuals selling “ghost guns,” typically AR-15 semiautomatic rifles that can be constructed through kits or “blanks” ordered for as little as $100 over the internet and built by drilling them out and assembling the parts.
Building such weapons, which do not carry serial numbers or other identifying features, is legal, but selling or trading them is a felony.
“You can build them in your shop or build them in your garage,” Johnston said.
He added that even with calls from neighbors about Neal firing weapons in the past, deputies received little cooperation when they responded.
“We would receive calls that he was shooting,” Johnston said. “No deputies observed it. This is why they tried to do surveillance to catch him, and that’s all I can say about that.
“We tried to make contact with him using other avenues, but quite honestly the neighbors up there weren’t real forthcoming, either, and they also had firearms and frequently shot, also.”