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4 Dead As Hostage Standoff Ends At California Veterans Home
A standoff at a veterans home in Yountville, California, ended Friday night with the deaths of three female employees and the gunman who took them hostage, the California Highway Patrol said.
Police identified the shooter as Albert Wong, a military veteran they said was armed with a high-powered rifle. The gunman stormed the Veterans Home of California-Yountville in Napa County midmorning Friday during a farewell party for an employee. He exchanged gunfire with a Napa County sheriff’s deputy, then took three hostages into a room, where he stayed throughout the day. The others in the building fled.
The victims have been identified as Jennifer Golick, 42; Jennifer Gonzalez, 29, and Christine Loeber, 48.
Hostage negotiators were never able to contact Wong, 36, as law enforcement officers and a SWAT team circled the veterans home. Officers finally entered the building about 6 p.m. local time and found the four bodies, Chris Childs, assistant captain of the California Highway Patrol, said at a news conference late Friday.
“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.
Childs thanked the deputy who confronted the gunman and prevented him from “going out and finding other victims.” The deputy was not injured.
Officers found the gunman’s rental car nearby, and a police dog indicated there may have been an explosive inside. “We found a cellphone, not a bomb,” Childs said.
He did not say what kind of gun the shooter used or give a time of death for the gunman and the hostages. Authorities were reaching out to family members of the victims late Friday.
California state Sen. Bill Dodd (D) told reporters that the gunman was a participant in The Pathway Home, an independently run program on Veterans Home grounds that works with veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder. The gunman was apparently “a veteran who served in the Middle East and has PTSD,” Dodd told ABC News. The man had been in the program since last year but had been asked to leave earlier this week, Dodd said. All of the victims had reportedly worked with the shooter in the Pathway program.
The standoff began after the county sheriff’s office responded to a call about 10:30 a.m. when a gunman walked into a party hosted by The Pathway Home.
Larry Kamer said his wife, Devereaux Smith, was one of about 10 to 15 people at the party when the gunman came in, according to The Associated Press. The gunman reportedly allowed everyone, including Smith, to leave except for the three people he took as hostages.
“Potentially” 30 shots were heard being fired, Veterans Home spokesman Joshua Kisser told HuffPost.
The Veterans Home is built on roughly 600 acres, making it the largest veterans home in the U.S., Kisser said. The facility, about an hour north of San Francisco, is home to about 1,000 retired service members.
Jan Thornton, 51, said her father is a World War II veteran who lives in the skilled nursing section of the facility. She said staff immediately locked down the buildings, along with individual rooms, upon reports of an active shooter Friday morning.
“I called my dad’s friend [who lives there] right away, because my dad has dementia and I didn’t want to panic him,” Thornton said, adding that her father was safe.
Brian Goder, a 59-year-old Air Force veteran who has lived at the Veterans’ Home for a little over two years, said he was walking to the dining hall when he was put on lockdown.
“As I was walking, people kept yelling ‘Sir! Sir!’ to me,” Goder told HuffPost. “I turned around and there were probably about a dozen police officers with ARs running past me.”
Ground and air ambulances were initially staged near the Veterans Home, police said. Police also cleared out the nearby Vintners Golf Club, which is open to the public.
“My poor dad,” Thornton said. “He saw enough of this at war. He doesn’t need to see this at home.”
Sarah Ruiz-Grossman contributed reporting.