Gunman and 3 Hostages Found Dead at California Veterans Home
Posted March 10, 2018 3:07 p.m. EST
Updated March 10, 2018 3:12 p.m. EST
Three women and the gunman who took them hostage were found dead Friday evening at a home for military veterans in Northern California, hours after the gunman had fired at a deputy, authorities said.
Assistant Chief Chris Childs of the California Highway Patrol said the four people were found shortly before 6 p.m. local time inside a room at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville, where the hostages had been taken.
“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 at a brief news conference.
In a statement, Napa County authorities identified the gunman as Albert Wong, 36, from Sacramento. The Associated Press, citing Defense Department records, said Wong was an Army veteran who had served in Afghanistan, and the Napa County statement said he had been associated with the Yountville facility’s Pathway Home treatment program.
The three women killed were employees of the Pathway Home program, whose website says it provides post-Sept. 11 veterans with academic and vocational support as they prepare to re-enter the civilian world after deployment.
In a statement, the Pathway Home identified the victims as Christine Loeber, 48, its executive director; Dr. Jen Golick, 42, a staff psychologist; and Dr. Jennifer Gonzales, 29, a psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs.
Asked at a news conference Friday night about when the hostages and the gunman died, Childs said, “We don’t know exactly, and that is still under investigation.”
Wong had been a member of the Pathway Home until recently, when he was asked to leave, state Sen. Bill Dodd said in an interview Friday afternoon.
Dodd said of the veterans in the Pathway program, “These are young men or women that have been on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq and come back with a traumatic brain disorder.”
Larry Kamer, a former member of the nonprofit’s board of directors, told CNN that his wife, Devereaux Smith, encountered the gunman during a going-away party for her fellow employees when he walked into the room with a rifle.
Smith had been working as the director of development and communication at Pathway since January, according to her LinkedIn profile.
“They were having cake and toasting, apparently he just walked in with this rifle,” Kamer said.
Smith and three other women were able to leave, Kamer added, but he did not say how they managed to escape to an adjacent building.
Some time after law enforcement responded to a call about shots fired, Sheriff John Robertson, of Napa County, said that a deputy and the gunman exchanged gunfire.
“There were many bullets fired,” he said at an afternoon news conference, adding that, at some point, the gunman released hostages, though it was unclear how many. Robertson said the deputy was not injured and he did not know whether the deputy injured the gunman.
Fernando Juarez, 36, of Napa, California, told The Press Democrat that his 22-year-old sister, a caregiver at Pathway, exchanged text messages with her family while sheltering in place at the home.
Juarez said she could hear people yelling “Get down! Get down!” and asked him to make sure her 3-year-old son would be cared for if she didn’t make it out alive.
The Yountville center is the largest veterans’ home in the country, according to state officials. The campus, in the heart of California’s wine country, houses about 1,000 military veterans, providing independent living, dementia care and skilled nursing care for its residents.
After the Civil War, many states established veterans’ homes to care for the thousands of injured soldiers returning from war. Yountville was California’s first, established in 1884 on a sprawling, idyllic site that now consists of stucco and red-tile-roof dormitories, a library, a swimming pool and a golf course.
State homes expanded after World War I, when the federal government began paying states a per diem to house and care for older and disabled veterans. They are operated by the states but largely funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs. There are now 153 state veterans homes across the country, according to the National Association of State Veterans Homes.
The federal government has provided about $90 million for the program each year, but states and veterans’ advocates have long complained of a lack of funds, leaving a backlog of state requests of more than $1 billion, according to the association.
The state systems have about 30,000 beds and are the largest provider of domicile and skilled nursing care for veterans.
On Saturday morning, President Donald Trump expressed condolences for “the loss of three incredible women” in Yountville.
Dodd said of the veterans home complex: “This is an institution in our county and has been for over a century. A lot of these veterans were recently evacuated because of the serious wildfires in the mountains behind the veterans home.”
He added that it was troubling “to have these vets go through another potential trauma.”