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4 Killed In Northern California Shooting


It takes an effort just to establish the timeline of a series of shootings in Northern California. NPR's Eric Westervelt has been following the track of a gunman in Rancho Tehama, Calif. He's on the line. Hi, Eric.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So let's just run through this. What happened when yesterday?

WESTERVELT: Well, this terror spree lasts about 45 minutes. It started just before 8 a.m. The gunman shot and killed two of his neighbors, a man and a woman that he'd been feuding with for months. The gunman then stole their pickup truck and attacked the local elementary school, but he couldn't get inside. He then drove through town firing at just about anyone he could find, creating a series of mini-crime scenes throughout this very tiny rural-sort-of-no-traffic-light town. Gunfire, Steve, here is pretty common. I mean, people hunt and shoot. It's a rural area.

But, you know, I spoke with a resident named Brian Rodgers. He owns a coffee shop in town. He said, this gunfire - it was really different. It was sustained. It was heavy. It was close. He was just opening up for the day outside hanging up his open sign when he heard the gunfire and he took cover. Let's take a listen to him describe the scene a bit.

BRIAN RODGERS: You could hear the teachers telling the kids to get down and get in. There was a guy shortly after that on the airport yelling, help me, help me. We heard all this. And the gray car came right in front of our business here. We were actually hiding behind this building to make sure shots were going to hit us. And the car went by. You could see the shot-out back window on the driver's side.

INSKEEP: Wow. And by the end, four people dead and about 10 people injured.


Hey, Eric. It's Rachel. So what strikes me about this, it is this horrific reality that our kids have to live through, these drills for scenarios just like this at school. It does seem though that in this case, it worked, right? It saved lives?

WESTERVELT: Yeah. There are really some incredible stories coming out about the attack on the elementary school. I mean, parents were arriving, taking their kids to school. The day was just getting started. One parent said, you know, I thought it was a traffic accident because this guy was ramming a pickup truck into the school gate. But then he - when he got out to ask what's going on, you know, the guy leveled his gun and took a shot at the guy. I mean, it was really incredible.

He was stalking around this building loaded down with ammunition and a semiautomatic rifle. But he could not get inside because of the fast action of teachers and staff, who, you know, they'd done their drills. They didn't wait for police. They just locked everything down, and he just couldn't get inside. And they really - they must have saved dozens of lives and averted a much bigger tragedy.

INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Eric Westervelt. He is on the scene of the Northern California shooting. And let's turn to the gunman, who was killed at the end of this series of attacks in a series of places. What's known about him?

WESTERVELT: Well, we have to say that the police have not yet publicly named the gunman, so we are not. But we know from the police and law enforcement sources that this past January, the shooter attempted to stab his neighbor. He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon. He was out on bail after serving some jail time. You know, a neighbor had gotten a restraining order against him.

And there was a domestic dispute called to the property on Monday, just the day before the shooting. You know, as I mentioned, the neighbor - that neighbor who got that restraining order is now among the dead. So, Steve, I think that, you know, the gunman's frequent run-ins with police and fights with neighbors, long-running dispute, certainly raising some questions as to whether police could have done more to see these red flags.

INSKEEP: And you can see the dilemma here because I'm sure there are plenty of people who have disputes with their neighbors or even seem troubled in some way or even have a restraining order against them who are not necessarily about to go out on a mass shooting. But the question is, could police maybe have figured out that something worse was about to happen here?

WESTERVELT: That's right. And some neighbors say, look, we've been complaining to the sheriff that this guy seemed volatile and mentally unstable and that he would shoot off rounds at all hours of the day and night. One neighbor said...

INSKEEP: OK. This is getting pretty bad, but go on.

WESTERVELT: ...Told a local newspaper that, you know, it was just hell living next to this guy. He would shoot off rounds all the time.

INSKEEP: OK. That's NPR's Eric Westervelt. He is in Northern California, the scene of a shooting there. Eric, thanks very much, as always.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.