LOS ANGELES - Four people were killed and nearly a dozen were wounded, including several children, when a gunman went on a rampage Tuesday at multiple locations, including a school in rural northern California.
Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston told reporters that the assailant was killed by police following the mass shooting, which began around 8:00 am (1600 GMT) at a home in Rancho Tehama Reserve and continued at several locations in the community, including an elementary school.
He said no children were among the dead.
"It was very clear at the onset that we had an individual that was randomly picking targets," Johnston said at a news conference.
He said one child was shot and wounded at the school. Another, he added, suffered non-life-threatening injuries while riding in a car with his mother, who was severely wounded.
Johnston said the gunmen, who has not been identified, went on a shooting spree after stealing a vehicle that crashed at some point. He then stole a second vehicle and was killed in a shootout with police.
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.
Three weapons recovered
"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 neighbour and had "been shooting a lot of bullets lately, hundreds of rounds, large magazines."
The shooting coincides with a 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.
Johnston told reporters that three weapons - a semi-automatic rifle and two handguns - had been recovered from the scene. He added that some 100 law enforcement officers responded to the shooting.
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.
The motive behind the killing is still unknown but initial reports indicated the incident may have started as a domestic dispute that escalated.
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.
More than 33,000 people die annually in the United States from gun-related deaths - two thirds of them suicides - according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Tuesday, families of victims of one of the deadliest shootings in modern US history pushed to reinstate a lawsuit to hold a gun manufacturer responsible for the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school that killed 20 children and six adults.
The families want Remington, which manufactured the military-style assault rifle used in the massacre, to be held liable for the tragedy.