RANCHO TEHAMA RESERVE
Poor and so rural the bus only runs into town a few times a week, a rambling community southwest of Red Bluff faces a long road to recovery after a disgruntled gunman killed six and wounded at least nine people, many of them children, this week.
“The poverty rate is very high and that area has needed help before this tragedy,” said Amanda Sharp, director of Tehama County Social Services and Community Action. “This is only exacerbating the suffering people are going to experience.”
Nearly 20 percent of people in Tehama County – 12,000 of 63,000 residents – have incomes that fall below the federal poverty level, according to the latest American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau. The median household income is about $41,000, compared to $64,500 statewide.
That poverty is exacerbated by its distance from the nearest towns of Corning and Red Bluff, the closest places for stores, medical care and social services, Sharp said. Without transportation, many residents are cut off from the outside world.
Sharp said those factors mean the shootings have ramifications beyond the families directly affected. She points to the high number of kids at Rancho Tehama Elementary – more than 90 percent – who qualify for free meals. The school where the gunman, Kevin Neal, shot two children is still closed and won’t reopen until after the Thanksgiving break, nearly a week of unexpected time off.
“None of those kids are getting breakfast or lunch right now,” she said. Social services agencies and community groups are making food boxes to be distributed at the fire department next week “so people can feed their kids.”
While county organizations and community groups reach out to the area, those who were directly affected are turning to the internet. Families and friends of victims have started fundraising campaigns online to pay for medical costs and other expenses.
Sheila Woods is one of those. On Thursday, she stopped by the Rancho Tehama Community Church to ask the pastor if he had any way to help her with gas. She said her son, 20-year-old James Woods II, was sitting at a stop sign Tuesday with his father when the gunman shot him in the face. Her husband was grazed by a bullet, also in the face.
“All they was doing was going to check the mail,” she said. “He’s going to be OK. They took the breathing tube out of his mouth — the big tube — they put a trach through his nose. They’re going to start feeding him through his nose. … He’s going to have a lot of surgeries to go through because his face is pretty bad.”
She said her family doesn’t have a lot of money, and James II has two young children. She’s unemployed, so they’ve started an online fundraiser to ask for help. So far, it has raised $825.
Alejandro Hernandez is another victim — the youngest — who remains in the hospital. Hernandez, 6, was shot in the chest and leg at the elementary school and was airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center.
His aunt, Benni Gonzales, said Thursday he still needs a surgery to remove the bullet in his chest and “he’s in the same situation … not getting better.”
The family’s fundraising campaign has raised more than $23,000.
Sacramento resident Sissy Feitelberg has started an online effort to help pay expenses for her grandson, Gage. Gage was locked down at Rancho Tehama Elementary School and wasn’t harmed, but Neal shot and killed the boy’s paternal grandmother and his father, Diana Lee Steele and Danny Lee Elliot, who lived next door to the gunman. His mother died when he was about two, according to the fundraising page, so Gage is now an orphan.