Gunman and victims identified in deadly standoff at California veterans home
A gunman and three female hostages were found dead at a military veterans home in Northern California on Friday evening, officials said, a grim end to a standoff that lasted nearly eight hours.
Shortly before 6 p.m., officers stormed into the room where the gunman had held the hostages at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville, said Chris Childs with the California Highway Patrol.
They found the gunman and the three hostages dead, he said. The coroner’s office identified the victims as Christine Loeber, 48; Jennifer Golick, 42; and Jennifer Gonzales, 29.
“This is a tragic piece of news, one that we were really hoping we wouldn’t have to come before the public to give,” Childs said.
Before officers entered the room, hostage negotiators spent hours trying to contact the gunman, who was a former client at The Pathway Home. Authorities identified him as Albert Wong, 36, of Sacramento.
Wong was a client of The Pathway Home, a nonprofit that helps veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and operates a rehabilitation center on Yountville property. He left the program two weeks ago, according to state Sen. Bill Dodd.
‘They were having cake’
The chaos started when the gunman barged into a going-away party for Pathway employees leaving the job, according to Larry Kamer, who said his wife, Devereaux Smith, works there.
“They were having cake and toasting, apparently he just walked in with this rifle,” Kamer said. He said his wife and other employees managed to escape, though he didn’t say how.
Reports of “shots fired” came in Friday morning. Dozens of law enforcement officers responded about 10:20 a.m. local time, Napa County Sheriff John Robertson said.
As the man held the hostages in a room inside the building, authorities tried to make contact and at some point exchanged gunfire with the gunman.
“We’ve tried numerous times and been trying since 10:30 this morning to contact him by his own cell phone, and also the phones in the dorm area,” Robertson said.
Authorities didn’t give a motive for the gunman’s actions.
It’s unclear whether the women were chosen at random, but they all worked at the facility.
Loeber was the executive director of The Pathway Home and Golick worked there as a staff psychologist. Gonzales was a clinical psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans’ Affairs Healthcare System.
“These brave women were accomplished professionals who dedicated their careers to serving our nation’s veterans, working closely with those in the greatest need of attention after deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan,” The Pathway Home said in a statement.
The Yountville facility is the largest veterans’ home in the country, according to the California Department of Veterans.
California Gov. Jerry Brown said the shooting “tragically took the lives of three people dedicated to serving our veterans.”
“Our hearts go out to their families and loved ones, and the entire community of Yountville,” Brown said in a statement.
The governor has ordered flags in the state’s capitol to fly at half staff in tribute to the victims and their families.
About 70 students who were inside a theater on the grounds of the veterans home were safely evacuated, Robertson said.
Wong had been a client of The Pathway Home, which operates an independent 35,000-square-foot center within the Yountville facility.
Its staff of 18 people has treated more than 400 veterans since 2008. Male veterans enrolled in the live-in program are mostly soldiers returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who have difficulty transitioning into civilian life.
Dozens of returning veterans have graduated from the program, including Adam Schumann, the subject of the book and Hollywood film “Thank You For Your Service” starring actor Miles Teller.
The Veterans Home of California and all its programs, including The Pathway Home, are an important part of the Napa Valley Community, with the 1,200-seat Lincoln Theater, a golf course and a large library, the California Department of Veterans Affairs said.
Residents were temporarily evacuated from the veterans home in October when fires raged through Napa County.
Yountville is a town of about 3,000 residents in the north San Francisco Bay area.