Authorities say the gunman who killed three mental health workers at a California veterans home was a 36-year-old former soldier and patient of the workers.
The Napa County Sheriff's Department said Friday that Albert Wong was found dead at the Yountville veterans facility along with the three victims, identified as 42-years-old Jennifer Golick, 48-years-old Christine Loeber and 29-years-old Jennifer Gonzalez. Golick and Gonzalez were counselors and Loeber was the director of the program.
Golick’s father-in-law, Bob Golick, said in a Friday afternoon interview with The Associated Press that his daughter-in-law said Wong had recently been kicked out of the program that offered treatment to Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and head injuries.
Department of Defense officials said Wong was a decorated U.S. soldier who served on active duty from May 2010 to August 2013. He spent a year in Afghanistan. Wong was awarded four medals, including an Afghanistan campaign medal with two campaign stars. He was also awarded an Expert Marksmanship Badge with Rifle.
'Tragic piece of news'
The four bodies were discovered nearly eight hours after the gunman slipped into an employee going-away party, said California Highway Patrol Assistant Chief Chris Childs.
The three women were employees of the nonprofit organization Pathway Home treatment program, which is housed on the campus of the Veterans Home of California-Yountville.
Childs said it was “far too early to say if they were chosen at random” because investigators had not yet determined a motive.
Although authorities called the workers hostages throughout the day Friday, it was unclear how long they were alive held by the gunman.
The only shots that were heard at the center happened around 10:30 a.m., when authorities say the suspect arrived. Throughout the day, authorities said they had been unable to make contact with the gunman and the bodies were found around 6 p.m.
“This is a tragic piece of news, one we were really hoping we would not have to come before the public to give,” Childs said.
Emergency call midmorning
A sheriff’s deputy responding to an emergency call shortly after 10 a.m. got into a shootout with the gunman, but the officer was not injured.
Larry Kamer told The Associated Press that his wife, Devereaux Smith, was at a morning staff party and told him by phone that the gunman had entered the room quietly, letting some people leave while taking others hostage.
Smith, a fundraiser for the nonprofit Pathway Home, was still inside the facility’s dining hall and was not allowed to leave, he said.
Police evacuated the property and closed off nearby roads. An armored police vehicle, ambulances and several firetrucks were at the facility, which houses about 1,000 residents.
Worried veterans, families
Army veteran and resident Bob Sloan, 73, was working at the home’s TV station when a co-worker came in and said he had heard four gunshots coming from the Pathway Home. Sloan sent alerts for residents to stay put.
Jan Thornton of Vallejo, California, was among hundreds of relatives worried about how their loved ones were coping with the lockdown. Thornton said her 96-year-old father, a World War II fighter pilot, was inside a hospital wing and that she had reached one of his friends who said he was safe.
Still, she worried about the stress of the lockdown, considering her father’s age and that he has PTSD and some dementia. Thornton said her “heart just bleeds for the people that are being held hostage.”
A group of about 80 students who were on the home’s grounds were safely evacuated after being locked down, the sheriff said. The teens from Justin-Siena High School were at a theater rehearsing a play.
“They were a distance away from the shooting situation,” Robertson said.
The state Veterans Affairs department says the home that opened in 1884 is the nation’s largest veterans home, with about 1,000 elderly and disabled residents.
Yountville is about 53 miles (85 kilometers) north of San Francisco. It’s a small town that’s home to wineries such as Domaine Chandon, which is less than a half-mile from the veterans facility, and Thomas Keller’s famed restaurant The French Laundry, which is about a mile away.