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Quick Acting School Staff In California Avert A Sandy Hook Massacre


Now here's a story of saving lives. It was part of Tuesday's mass shooting in northern California. Teachers, a janitor and others at a school kept it from being worse. Here's NPR's Eric Westervelt.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: After a gunman Kevin Janson Neal had killed his wife and then two neighbors Tuesday morning, he headed for nearby Rancho Tehama Elementary. It was just before 8:00 a.m., when school starts. Teachers heard the crackle of gunfire nearby. Immediately the K through fifth grade school with about a hundred students and nine staff went under lockdown. They didn't wait for police instructions. They just moved. Richard Fitzpatrick is superintendent of the Corning Elementary School District.


RICHARD FITZPATRICK: Love and kindness and selflessness paired with the ability to professionally do what they did defeated evil yesterday.

WESTERVELT: Teachers and a secretary locked doors and windows as they hurried kids to safety. The head custodian yelled, get into the classrooms, to children playing in the yard. Soon after, this custodian - Fitzpatrick declined to give his name - stuck his head around the corner of the school building, locked eyes with the gunman and drew gunfire. The shooter's gun briefly jammed.


FITZPATRICK: The custodian's actions in diverting the attention from the shooter at that time gave us the much needed seconds to complete the process.

WESTERVELT: And save lives. The shooter repeatedly tried to get through the kindergarten door. He could not. The lockdown training and practice had paid off. Children sheltered under desks while teachers tried to keep them calm. The only room the gunman was able to enter was an empty bathroom. Frustrated, he began firing at the windows and walls. One student was badly wounded and remains in hospital, but the staff likely averted a massacre like the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. Assistant Tehama County Sheriff Phil Johnston.


PHIL JOHNSTON: It is monumental that that school went on lockdown. I mean, I really truly believe that we would've had a horrific bloodbath in that school if that school hadn't taken the action when they did. So I can't say how important that is.

WESTERVELT: The routinization of school-shooter lockdown drills may seem depressing to some, but Superintendent Fitzpatrick's takeaway is hopeful. If we can lock down, he says, our kids can go home safely at the end of the day.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Rancho Tehama, Calif. 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.