All 3 hostages and gunman die in armed attack on Yountville veterans home in Napa Valley
A decorated Army veteran with a high-powered rifle returned to the Veterans Home of California in Yountville, where he had recently been kicked out of a program for treatment of combat stress, and killed three mental health workers Friday, officials said.
He and the victims were found dead about 8 hours after he exchanged gunfire with a Napa County sheriff's deputy, officials said.
The attack, just after 10 a.m., touched off a daylong lockdown at the nation's largest veterans home, which occupies a sprawling 600-acre state campus. The victims died in a building where they worked with The Pathway Home, a private organization that helps traumatized veterans transition to civilian life.
Dozens of heavily armed law enforcement officers from across the region as well as the FBI swarmed the campus by mid-morning, bracing for a siege or prolonged hostage negotiations, but that did not take place. Officers saw and heard nothing from the gunman or the three hostages over the course of about eight hours until their bodies were discovered about 6 p.m., a CHP spokesman said.
“I feel sick to my stomach. I feel sick to my heart,” said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, who knew one of the three women killed Friday. “These were wonderful people who were killed. It's just, it's just really hard to think about it, talk about it. It's another senseless killing.”
The victims were identified as The Pathway Home's executive director, Christine Loeber, staff therapist Jen Golick and Jennifer Gonzales Shushereba, a psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System.
At least one and possibly all of the women knew the shooter, Albert Wong, 36, who just weeks ago was a resident under treatment with the organization, Napa County Sheriff's Capt. Steve Blower said.
Shortly after 10 a.m., Wong strode into Building G, also called Madison Hall, in the middle of the campus, carrying a high-powered rifle, ammunition and at least two other firearms. He interrupted a going-away party for a staff member of The Pathway Home, officials said.
“It was clear that he was there to do some harm,” said an organization volunteer and spokesman Larry Kamer, whose wife, Devereaux Smith, was in the room when Wong came through the door.
Many escaped including Smith, but not Loeber, Golick and Gonzales.
Blower said the deputy who exchanged fire with Wong was nearby and arrived within minutes of the first 911 call. He encountered people fleeing the scene.
“He didn't stand around and wait. He went in,” Blower said.
The deputy, whose name was not released Friday, exchanged gunfire with Wong in a brief encounter inside Madison Hall, Blower said. No words were exchanged, according to the captain. Dispatch reports indicated up to 30 shots had been fired.
Law enforcement officials disclosed few other details about circumstances of the attack or the encounter with the deputy, including how the exchange of gunfire ended. Authorities did not say how Wong died.
No further contact was made with Wong or any of the victims, even as scores of law enforcement officers, SWAT teams and hostage negotiators surrounded the building, trying for hours to reach the suspect by cellphone but making no contact, said Chris Childs, assistant chief of the CHP's Golden Gate division.
Childs said they later found a cellphone in Wong's rental car, parked on campus.
Wong, who served in the infantry during his three years of active service, ending in 2013, earned four medals, including an Afghanistan campaign medal with two campaign stars, according to the Associated Press.
He was also awarded an Expert Marksmanship Badge with Rifle.
He had been dismissed from The Pathway Home, according to State Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, whose district includes the veterans campus.
News of Wong's actions Friday devastated Cissy Sherr, who with her husband Matthew Sherr became Wong's legal guardians in San Francisco after the death of his father when he was a child. Sherr said Wong joined the Army and served in Afghanistan, and he confided with her about the difficult experiences he had while serving abroad.
“Like many of our young men (in the military), he did see some rough times,” Sherr said.
The Sherrs, who live on the San Francisco Peninsula, kept in touch with Wong on birthdays, but Sherr said she wasn't aware that Wong had joined a program helping veterans recover from the traumatic experiences of war.
“He's always been soft-spoken, honest and patriotic and loyal. It's heartbreaking,” she said late Friday.
The Veterans Home of California houses about 850 residents on the property, run by the California Department of Veterans Affairs. Spokeswoman June Iljana said approximately 300 employees work at the state-run home, the largest of its kind in the nation. The facility traces its operations back about 135 years.
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