Los Angeles (AFP) – At least four people were killed and nearly a dozen people were wounded, including three young children, when a shooting broke out Tuesday at a school in rural northern California.
Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston told the KCRA news network that the assailant was killed by police following the shooting, which began around 8:00 am (1600 GMT) at a home in Tehama County and continued at the Rancho Tehama Elementary School.
Local news reports said the incident began as a domestic dispute that escalated.
Jim Schultz, a reporter for the Redding Record Searchlight newspaper, quoted Rancho Tehama resident Salvador Tello, who was taking his three children to school and described seeing the gunman open fire, killing a woman.
“He said he saw bullets strike the truck in front of him and he put his children down to protect them and put his truck to… reverse,” Schultz said on Twitter.
“As he left, he saw (a) woman lying dead in the street and her… wounded husband next to her. Was told help was on its way.”
Schultz quoted another witness, Casey Burnett, who said the gunman was “driving around and shooting randomly from his car.”
Area resident Brian Flint told local media that his roommate had been shot and killed by the gunman, a former convict in his 50s.
“He’s dead. He didn’t make it,” Flint told KCRA, referring to his roommate. “For his family and everything, I feel bad, and we’ll be there for them.”
He said the gunman was a neighbor and had “been shooting a lot of bullets lately, hundreds of rounds, large magazines.”
“We made it aware that this guy is crazy and he’s been threatening us,” he said.
The shooting coincides with a new flareup of the long-running debate on America’s epidemic of gun violence and the ready accessibility of high-powered weapons, less than 10 days after a gunman shot dead 26 people at a church in Texas.
– Victims randomly picked –
Johnston, of the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office, told reporters that three weapons — a semi-automatic rifle and two handguns — had been recovered from the scene.
He added that the victims were randomly targeted by the gunman in multiple locations.
“I know that we have medevacked (airlifted) a number of students, I know that the school has been cleared, I know that we have the children that were attending school in a safe location at this time,” Johnston said.
Some 100 law enforcement officers responded to the shooting, and students at the school have been safely evacuated, he added.
The Redding Record Searchlight said among the wounded was a six-year-old who suffered two gunshot wounds and another child shot in the leg.
It said initial reports indicated the shooter had barricaded himself inside a building before being shot by police.
Katrina Gierman, who lives near the school, told the paper that she heard the gunshots and had locked herself in her home with her newborn son.
“I have the right to bear arms, and I will protect my son if I have to,” she said.
The elementary school is located on the outskirts of Corning, an olive oil-producing town of around 8,000 people about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of the state capital Sacramento.
Jason Wandel, chief division counsel at the FBI’s Sacramento field office, told AFP that agents had been sent to help with the investigation but wouldn’t confirm any details regarding the incident.
More than 33,000 people die annually in the United States from gun-related deaths — two thirds of them suicides — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.