Army vet gunned down women who devoted lives to vets
YOUNTVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Three women, including one who was pregnant, who devoted their lives to helping traumatized veterans were killed by a patient who had been kicked out of their Northern California treatment program, authorities and a relative of a victim said.
A daylong siege at The Pathway Home ended Friday evening with the discovery of four bodies, including the gunman. He was identified as Albert Wong, 36, a former Army rifleman who served a year in Afghanistan in 2011-2012.
Investigators were still trying to determine when and why Wong killed two executives and a psychologist at The Pathway Home, a nonprofit post-traumatic stress disorder program at the Veterans Home of California-Yountville in the Napa Valley wine country region.
It was “far too early to say if they were chosen at random” because investigators had not yet determined a motive, California Highway Patrol Assistant Chief Chris Childs said.
Gov. Jerry Brown ordered flags flown at half-staff at the Capitol in memory of the victims. They were identified as The Pathway Home Executive Director Christine Loeber, 48; Clinical Director Jennifer Golick, 42; and Jennifer Gonzales, 29, a clinical psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System who was seven months pregnant.
“The three women that were lost yesterday dedicated their lives to helping our veterans. They lived their lives selflessly to serve others,” Yountville Mayor John Dunbar, who is also a board member of The Pathway Home, said Saturday. “We also lost one of our heroes who clearly had demons that resulted in the terrible tragedy that we all experienced here.”
Loeber, who had taken over The Pathway Home 18 months ago, was known by all as dedicated and caring.
“She would sleep in her office more often than not because she had to be there to fill a shift, that’s the kind of personal dedication she showed all of us,” Dunbar said.
Family friend Tom Turner said Loeber would be helping others understand and deal with the tragedy if she were still alive.
“She’d have a better perspective than I would,” he said. “And she wouldn’t be as angry I am.”
Marjorie Morrison, the founder of a nonprofit organization known as PsychArmor, recalled Gonzales as “brilliant” talent who did amazing work with veterans with PTSD.
“This was like her work and her passion,” she said.
Mother-to-be Gonzales was supposed to travel to Washington, D.C. this weekend to celebrate her wedding anniversary, family friend Vasiti Ritova said.
Golick’s father-in-law, Mike Golick, said in an interview she had recently expelled Wong from the program.
The Pathway Home is located on the sprawling campus of the veterans centers, the largest veterans home in the nation, which cares for about 1,000 elderly and disabled vets.
Wong went to the campus about 53 miles (85 kilometers) north of San Francisco on Friday morning, slipping into a going-away party for some employees of The Pathway Home.
Larry Kamer told The Associated Press that his wife, Devereaux Smith, called him to say that the gunman had entered the room quietly, letting some people leave while taking others hostage.
Golick called her husband, Mark, to say that she had been taken hostage by the former soldier, her father-in-law said.
Mark Golick didn’t hear from her again.
A Napa Valley sheriff’s deputy exchanged gunshots with the hostage-taker at about 10:30 a.m. but after that nothing was heard from Wong or his hostages despite daylong efforts to contact him, authorities said.
Sandra Woodford, an Army veteran who was working across the street at the crafts center, saw the exchange of gunfire from her vantage about 150 feet away.
From inside The Pathway Home facility, “we heard this racket, this rapid live fire of rounds going on, at least 12,” she said.
“Boom, boom, boom, boom,” she said. “There was that initial fire burst. Then, not a beep.”
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.
President Donald Trump tweeted Saturday morning: “We are deeply saddened by the tragic situation in Yountville and mourn the loss of three incredible women who cared for our Veterans.”
The bodies of Wong and the women were found at about 6 p.m. While authorities had the building under siege for about eight hours, they didn’t enter it.
Yvette Bennett, a wound-care supply worker who supplies the veterans center, was turned back when she tried to deliver what she called urgently needed medical supplies for two patients inside.
Of all the medical institutions she has worked with, “this is the most placid, calm, serene place,” she said.
Earlier this week, when she last visited, she asked a doctor, “What’s your magic here?”
“And then 48 hours later this happens,” Bennett said.