Police are searching for a motive after a shooting spree left five dead in a northern California town, terrifying residents as the gunman opened fire on an elementary school.
An official with the Tehama County Sheriff's office said the shooter was among the dead. None of the slain were children “as far as we're aware of”, assistant sheriff Phil Johnston told reporters.
The alleged assailant was killed by “law enforcement bullets”, Mr Johnston said. He added that officers had recovered a semiautomatic rifle and two handguns believed to have been used by the shooter.
After police responded to a call at around 8am local time, Mr Johnston said, the suspect engaged in a 45-minute spree that saw him conduct “several random drive-by shootings of residences”.
Greater bloodshed was averted, Mr Johnston said, by “the quick thinking and staff at our elementary school” who swiftly locked down the school after hearing approaching gunshots.
After the shooter rammed his vehicle through a school fence and strode onto the campus armed with a semiautomatic rifle, Mr Johnson said, the shooter “gave it up” upon encountering locked rooms and departed.
“This incident, as tragic and bad as it is, could have been so much worse,” Mr Johnston told reporters. He added that the actions of staff “saved countless lives and children”, although he said “one or two students” were injured when the assailant fired into classrooms.
After departing the school, Mr Johnston said, the believed assailant crashed into another car and then stole the vehicle of someone who engaged him. He then opened fire on a woman who was driving with her children, “severely” injuring her. Officers later engaged and killed the suspect, Mr Johnston said.
The suspected shooter acted alone, Mr Johnston said, and he reiterated an earlier statement that the assailant was targeting people “at random”. But he acknowledged that the alleged killer had history with one his victims: he had an “ongoing dispute” with another woman that had previously resulted in his arrest for assault with a deadly weapon.
A restraining order had been issued against the suspect following a “neighbourhood dispute” in January, Mr Johnston said.
Underscoring the apparent element of randomness, Mr Johnston said the suspected shooter spent part of the rampage “driving by residences and arbitrarily shooting at them”. Similarly, he said police believed the suspect targeted the elementary school “as a random target”.
Mr Johnston said that police had not yet established a reason for the killings.
“We don't know what the motives are for this individual to go on this shooting spree”, Mr Johnston said.
Mr Johnston said that “a number of students” had been medically evacuated from the school, which had been cleared. Other students were moved to a safe location, he said.
He said around 100 law enforcement officers had been deployed around the town of Rancho Tehama and were investigating at least seven scenes related to the shooting.
Enloe Medical Center in Chico, more than 40 miles southeast of the school, received five patients, and three of them were treated and released, with another two hospitals receiving at least two patients each.
Shots were fired at the school and some people were injured at the campus but no students or staff members died, Corning Union Elementary School District administrative assistant Jeanine Quist told Reuters.
A parent, Coy Ferreira, said he was dropping off his daughter when he heard gunshots. “One of the teachers came running out of the building and told us to all run inside because there was a shooter coming,” Mr Ferreira told KRCR TV station.
“So we all hurried up and ran and told the students to get in the classrooms,” Mr Ferreira said, adding that he heard gunfire for over 20 minutes and a student in the room was struck.
California Governor Jerry Brown responded to the news by saying he and his wife Anne Gust Brown were “saddened to hear about today's violence in Tehama County, which shockingly involved schoolchildren.”
“We offer our condolences to the families who lost loved ones and unite with all Californians in grief,” Mr Brown said.