Tehama County Shooter Kevin Janson Neal Was a Ticking Time Bomb. Why Wasn’t He Defused?

The man who killed five people and wounded several others in Tehama County last week has been identified as 44-year-old Kevin Janson Neal of Corning. Police believe he killed his wife the day before he embarked on a 25-minute shooting rampage Tuesday, killing a neighbor and then three others outside the Rancho Tehama Elementary School.

Neal was no stranger to authorities. His family says he had a history of severe mental health issues and, in the days leading up to the crime, 911 had been summoned several times due to disturbances involving Neal and firearms. A picture is worth a thousand words, as the old adage goes, but this pre-shooting mugshot of Neal may be worth a thousand and one.

"We can't anticipate what people are going to do," said Tehama County Asst. Sheriff Phil Johnston Wednesday. "We don't have a crystal ball..."

But neighbors say you didn’t need one to understand what Neal was capable of. He was violent, crazed, and paranoid. Why didn’t authorities do something to intervene earlier they wonder. And how was he able to get and keep firearms in the first place?

The answer to at least one of those questions has been answered. As it turns out, Neal made some of his own weapons at home

The arsenal that police said Kevin Janson Neal used during Tuesday's deadly rampage in northern California included two AR-15 type semi-automatic rifles with multi-round magazines that he assembled himself, police told NBC News on Thursday…

Experts say Neal apparently exploited a legal loophole that enabled him to get around California’s tough gun laws by ordering the parts for a weapon that is illegal in that state — and putting it together at home.

In addition to these so-called "ghost firearms" were two conventional handguns that Neal also used in the killing spree. 

Under California’s Armed and Prohibited Persons System, it seems Neal shouldn’t have been in possession of these guns at all. At the time of the shooting, he was out on bail for allegedly stabbing a neighbor. He was due to stand trial in January on a litany of charges. Yet on Wednesday, Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston told reporters Neal was not barred from owning a weapon.

Tehama County prosecutors have since said Neal was not supposed to possess firearms and that they would have attempted to have his remaining guns confiscated had they known guns were still in his possession. Law enforcement, they say, never informed them of the multiple calls from concerned neighbors in the days leading up to the crime.

Questions abound over Neal’s mental health status as well, with some wondering why a man with such obvious psychiatric problems was allowed to remain out on the streets untreated.

In 2002, California enacted a bill to prevent people like Neal from committing violent crimes. Laura’s Law makes it easier to mandate involuntary outpatient treatment for mentally ill individuals with a recent history of threats or violence. But it only applies to counties which have voted to implement it. So far, Tehama is not among them.

While Tuesday’s shooting has raised a number of serious questions about guns, mental health policy, and the specific actions of the Tehama County Sheriff’s Department, it did highlight some safety successes as well. As the L.A. Times reports, quick thinking on the part of Rancho Tehama staff and a rapid lockdown system thwarted Neal’s attempt to enter the elementary school that day, saving countless young lives. As a result, not a single child was killed.

See also:

Judge Urges Other Counties to Adopt Laura’s Law to Save Money and Lives

Legislator Writes Bill to Extend Laura’s Law; Allows Counties to Provide Court-Ordered Care 

Nevada County Grand Jury Calls On Other Counties to Adopt Laura’s Law; Cite Savings 


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