When the bloodbath ended in Tehama County last month, law enforcement officers thought they’d ended the carnage by killing gunman Kevin Janson Neal.
Instead, Neal shot himself to death.
The Tehama County Sheriff’s Department said Friday that Neal, 44, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The department said the result was based on an autopsy conducted one day after Neal went on a rampage Nov. 14 in the remote community of Rancho Tehama Reserve and killed four people. A day before the shooting spree, Neal killed his wife in their battered trailer home.
Family members have said Neal, who moved to the area from North Carolina about a decade ago, suffered from delusions and other mental problems. He was out on bail for assaulting two of his neighbors and had engaged in a long-running feud. Authorities have referred to him as a “madman on the loose.”
In a press statement issued Friday, the Sheriff’s Department traced the final moments of an ordeal that began early that morning and lasted about 45 minutes.
A police officer from Corning caught up to Neal on Rancho Tehama Road, near the heart of the tiny community, shortly after Neal had wounded a motorist named Francisco Cardenas, who survived the shooting.
The Corning officer rammed Neal’s vehicle, forcing it off the road. Neal started firing a semi-automatic rifle, striking the officer’s patrol car five times. A Tehama sheriff’s deputy arrived and his vehicle was struck three times.
Both officers returned fire, and Neal lay dead in the driver’s seat of his vehicle.
Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston told The Sacramento Bee that the rifle malfunctioned during the shootout. Neal then picked up a .45 caliber pistol and shot himself in the head. It was the gun that was “registered to him in 2008 that he brought from North Carolina and failed to register” after moving to California, Johnston said.
Johnston said officials believe the self-inflicted wound represented the only time during the incident that Neal used the pistol. The semi-automatic rifle he used during his rampage was a homemade and illegal, homemade “ghost gun.”
Neal had been arrested in late January for assaulting two women who lived near him. That prompted a restraining order that required him to surrender all firearms.
Despite the restraining order, neighbors say he continued to menace those who lived in the vicinity of his trailer home, firing weapons in the air or aiming a rifle at them. In turn, he and his wife, Barbara Anne Neal, called authorities to accuse his neighbors of running a methamphetamine operation – an allegation that went unproven.
In all, the Sheriff’s Department received 21 calls from Neal or his neighbors in the year leading up to last month’s shooting rampage. Johnston has said Neal never came to the door when deputies came to his home in response to neighbors’ complaints.
Neal killed his wife Nov. 13 and hid her body beneath their home. The next day, he murdered two of his neighbors, Diana Lee Steele and her son Danny Elliott. Steele was one of the two women he had assaulted in January.
After killing them, Neal drove to Rancho Tehama Elementary School in apparent pursuit of Elliott’s son Gage, whom neighbors said he had previously threatened to kill. A quick lockdown helped prevent any children from being killed, though two were hospitalized.
After leaving the school, Neal ran Troy and Michelle McFayden off the road then pursued them by foot in an apparent act of random violence. Michelle was fatally shot at the scene, while Troy, bleeding profusely, told Neal he would die soon and the shooter needn’t waste more bullets, according to the Redding Record Searchlight.
The fourth person killed that morning was a man identified as Joseph Edward McHugh III.
Neal attacked alone in his massacre, the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Friday.