TEMAMA, Calif. — Seven-year-old Gage did what the teachers said. He knew the drill.
A whistle blows. You go into lockdown. Go inside. Get real quiet. Hide under the desk.
A gunman had emerged outside Rancho Tehama Elementary School in Northern California. He fired at the building. He got closer, and fired some more.
Gage said he heard his class door being jostled. It was the bad man outside. He was trying to get in.
The locked door kept the gunman out Tuesday morning, and Gage survived along with his classmates and teachers. The gunman was a man Gage knew and feared: his neighbor Kevin Jason Neal.
“He shot at their house,” Gage’s maternal grandmother, Alma “Sissy” Feitelberg, told CNN.
“Yeah,” Gage said. “He did, at least three times a day.” Then Gage went silent.
When the children were finally free to go home Tuesday, Gage waited for his dad or paternal grandmother to pick him up. They never showed. Instead his father’s best friend did. Gage soon found out the gunman who had just caused pain and havoc at his school had also destroyed his home life.
Neal shot and killed Gage’s father and grandmother before heading to the school. Gage is now an orphan and has lost the grandparent who had mothered him.
“My main goal in life now is to make sure he is happy and healthy,” Feitelberg said. “He is going to live with us. I am going to get guardianship.”
Feitelberg begins to weep as new pain heaps on old haunting pain that never completely goes away.
“I lost my daughter. Now he’s lost his dad, my son-in-law, and his mother,” she said. “It’s just tragic. And no 7-year-old should have to face that. I feel heartbroken for Gage.”
CNN is not using Gage’s last name at his grandmother’s request.
A difficult life from the start
Gage began his life with a fight.
He was born with clubfeet and went through the process of correcting the condition, Feitelberg said. He won that battle.
Then when Gage was just 22 months, his mother, Cher, died unexpectedly. She was 28 and battling physical pain that she tried to kill with opioids, Feitelberg said.
“Cher died a horrible death. She was sitting on the edge of the bathtub and had a heart attack from taking too many pills. She fell into the water and drowned,” her mother said.
Gage turned 2 without his mother. But he still had his dad and grandparents who adored him. He lived with his father and his paternal grandmother until Tuesday, when his world was shattered.
Engrossed in a game on Feitelberg’s mobile phone at her home Thursday, Gage stopped for a moment and muttered, “I live here now, forever.”
Then he went back to his game. He was done talking. Now he wanted to get back to being 7 years old in his new forever home.