Unfounded report of Yountville Veterans Home gunman rattles site hit by deadly 2018 shooting

The report of a suspected active shooter touched off a roughly four-hour search by armed officers almost three years to the day that a troubled veteran shot and killed 3 staffers.|

Dozens of heavily armed law enforcement personnel converged early Tuesday on the Veterans Home of California in Yountville in response to a report of a possible active shooter, spurring a tense four-hour search and lockdown that lasted until an all-clear report just before noon.

By the end, authorities confirmed that no shots had been fired and said they had located no suspect nor any firearm, releasing the sprawling community of 700-plus veterans and family members — the nation’s largest such residential center for military retirees — from the grip of what had been another unfolding nightmare.

It came against the resumed drumbeat of mass shootings across the nation, including the latest on Monday in Boulder, Colorado where 10 people died in a supermarket, and another last week in Atlanta that resulted in eight deaths.

That context, plus the 2018 deadly shooting attack that claimed the lives of three staff members at the Yountville campus, resulted in pervasive fear and anxiety even through the final word that Tuesday’s incident was a false alarm.

“A lot of people were shook up,” said retired music promoter Gary Sloan, an 81-year-old Marine Corps veteran who is chairman of the Allied Council in Yountville, which advises the administrator there.

The scare came just a little more than three years after a troubled gunman killed three women who worked at a nonprofit residential program for traumatized veterans on the Yountville campus, making Tuesday’s scene all the more painful for those who lived through that tragedy.

“It’s really surreal to have been back up there, so close to what happened three years ago,” said Yountville Mayor John Dunbar, who was on the board for The Pathway Home organization. Its executive director and two top clinicians were slain March 9, 2018, by a former resident, Army veteran Albert Cheung Wong, 36.

“Thankfully the outcome was very different, and nobody was hurt, but we have to respond when there’s a report of an active shooter,” Dunbar said of Tuesday’s quick and heavy police response. “Law enforcement can’t wait and determine if it’s a serious situation or not.”

The episode began around 7:30 a.m. when a staff member reported seeing a woman who appeared to have a long, black gun with a large stock, like a shotgun, in the Holderman building, which houses the vets home skilled nursing facility, officials said.

A massive callout of law enforcement and public safety personnel resulted, bringing officers from CHP, the Napa County Sheriff’s Office and local police departments, including SWAT teams with two large armored vehicles and ambulances.

Some estimates put the gathered police force at close to 100 personnel. A CHP plane and at least two helicopters circled overhead as officers began a floor-to-floor search of Holderman and swept the grounds of the 615-acre campus.

Residents and employees were directed to stay put, on lockdown, and head counts were conducted so officials knew everyone was OK, they said. The state-operated and owned facility housed approximately 730 residents and employed about 850 people as of last summer.

The search was suspended and an “all clear” order issued at 11:54 a.m., leaving a small number of CHP units on site “out of an abundance of caution,” according to the agency.

The swarm of heavily armed officers and medical first responders, however, left those who lived through the 2018 shooting rehashing painful memories.

That premeditated attack by Wong, an Army infantry veteran who served in Afghanistan, came after he had repeatedly threatened staff at The Pathway Home, where he’d been kicked out for carrying knives. His transfer to another program was underway.

But he returned to the campus heavily armed, propping open a door by night and stealing into the building the next morning during a farewell party, where he sent everyone out of the room except for his three victims, whom he gunned down before killing himself.

Executive Director Christine Loeber, 48, Clinical Director Jennifer Gray Golick, 42, and Dr. Jennifer Gonzales Shushereba, 32, a clinical psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare, formed the primary care team at The Pathway Home. They were credited with forging deep, personnel connections with clients. Shushereba was expecting her first child, who also died.

The Yountville community and residents of Napa County had strongly supported the program and embraced its clients, celebrating those who found there new, healthier lives. The women’s deaths and the program’s ultimate closure were widely mourned.

Many were revisiting those losses Tuesday.

“One day, one action by a single individual can change everything,” said state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, said he saw a flood of patrol units heading to the vets home on his way to his Napa field office early Tuesday and detoured there himself, as he did in March 2018.

“We’re all somewhat on edge with all of this,” said Thompson, the Democrats’ point man in Congress on gun control, his universal background checks bill awaiting action now in the Senate. “Every 20 seconds there’s another situation where someone is shot or there’s an attempted murder. It’s a huge problem. We’ve just seen so much of this, and it’s just too much.”

Thompson, whose bill has passed the House and is expected to get its first vote on the Senate floor, said he sees growing support for tighter gun regulation on the part of Democrats and Republicans. The nation, he said, already is behind it.

For those like him who knew Pathway Home staffers personally and who still have scars from the shooting, Tuesday brought fresh pain, he said.

“People are going to feel this,” Thompson said. “The truth of the matter is that this is something that we all feel and something that we’re all going to suffer with. I have young students tell me that they live in fear that their school is going to be the next school that’s going to be impacted by gun violence, and that is just wrong.”

Sloan, the Allied Council chairman, whose residence hall is on the opposite end of the campus from where the reported gunman was called in Tuesday, said he had an inkling early on that nothing would become of the situation.

But the lack of gunfire notwithstanding, he said, “I’d say for a lot of the veterans, more so than me, I’d say it was pretty stressful and frightening.”

Dunbar, the Yountville mayor, said the response from law enforcement was “appropriate” and “appreciated.”

“It turned out there was not the serious threat that we feared might be there,” he said, “but we’ve certainly been seeing these kinds of events play out in very tragic ways around the country lately, and we’re very grateful it didn’t play out that way here today.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com and Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or andrew.graham@pressdemocrat.com.

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