(ABC TODAY) A tense standoff between the police and a gunman who had stormed into a California veterans home and taken three clinicians hostage came to a grim end Friday night when officers entered the room the gunman was in to find him and the hostages dead.
The man had shown up at the Veterans Home of California-Yountville in Napa County the largest veterans home in the United States in the morning with a rifle and exchanged gunfire with a sheriff’s deputy before crashing a farewell party for employees and taking a number of hostages. (ABC TODAY)
The confrontation stretched throughout the day and into the evening; officials said that some hostages had been released early on, but three remained trapped in a room with the gunman. Teams of federal, state and local law enforcement officials and hostage negotiators from three agencies had been unable to make contact with the gunman or the hostages throughout the day, officials said.
But about 6 p.m. local time, officers entered the room and discovered the bodies of the four people, including the suspect, officials said at a briefing Friday night. They said that no one else was injured in the attack.
“This is a tragic piece of news and one that we were really hoping we wouldn’t have to come before the public to give,” Chris Childs, an assistant chief at the California Highway Patrol, told reporters at a somber news conference.
The three victims, all women, were connected to the Pathway Home, a nonprofit on site that works to reintegrate recent veterans back into civilian life, including those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It was not immediately clear when the hostages had been killed.
A statement from the nonprofit identified the victims Friday night as the center’s executive director Christine Loeber, therapist Jen Golick and Jennifer Gonzales, a psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System.
“These brave women were accomplished professionals who dedicated their careers to serving our nation’s veterans, working closely with those in the greatest need of attention after deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the Pathway Home said in a statement.
The incident unfolded around 10:20 a.m., when the gunman showed up and exchanged fire with a sheriff’s deputy who had been called to the scene, officials said.
At some point, the gunman appeared at the goodbye party for one of the employees of the Pathway Home, according to Larry Kamer, a former member of the nonprofit’s board of directors.
“There was a going-away party for a couple of the staff who were leaving today. Today was their last day. They were having cake and toasting and apparently he just walked in with this rifle,” said Kamer, who told reporters that his wife, an employee for the Pathway Home, was at the event.
Kamer said his wife was one of the hostages who had been allowed to leave.
The standoff had lasted about eight hours, paralyzing the complex and nearby areas. Law enforcement officers from state and federal agencies had swarmed around the building as worried family members waited outside. Those inside were told to shelter in place.
The Napa County Sheriff’s Office identified the gunman as Albert Wong, 36, of Sacramento. Childs from highway patrol said the suspect’s car, a rental, had been found outside the veterans home with a cellphone inside of it.
State Sen. Bill Dodd, who represents the area, said on NBC that the gunman had been dismissed from a veterans program at the facility this week.
The scene brought fear and terror to the small town of about 3,000 in the heart of California’s wine country as armored vehicles descended on an area perhaps most famous for the upscale restaurant the French Laundry. The winery Domaine Chandon is less than a half mile away from the veterans home.
And it was another trauma for an area still recovering from a series of devastating wildfires in October. The veterans home had been evacuated during the fires.
Some 80 high school students visiting a theater on the property of the veterans home were put in a “lockdown situation” before being evacuated, Napa County Sheriff John R. Robertson told reporters. Nearby facilities, including a golf course, were also evacuated.
Officials said they were in the process of bringing residents back to their homes.
“I would ask as the evening progresses, as we repopulate the veterans’ home, that you be mindful of our good veterans who have served our country who have just been through a very traumatic event here in their home,” Childs said.
Law enforcement agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI assisted in the response, joining deputies from the Napa County Sheriff’s Office as well as a SWAT team from the highway patrol.
Photographs from local media outlets showed armored vehicles and officers in tactical gear at work outside the building.
The Yountville residence, home to 1,000 elderly or disabled veterans of wars dating back to World War II, dates to the 1880s, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Pathway Home occupies part of the massive campus. The organization opened in 2008 to work with male soldiers returning home from the wars in the Middle East, including a large number dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
It is known for unconventional treatments such as swimming with dolphins and social events where veterans mix with children. Since it opened, about 450 people have been treated there for issues such as PTSD, mild traumatic brain injury and other mental health issues, the Chronicle reported.