Gunman Albert Wong who killed three women hostages at California veterans home was decorated US Army soldier treated for PTSD
Albert Wong had been a patient of Pathway Home, a programme at the Yountville complex for former service members suffering post-traumatic stress disorder after deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan
Authorities were trying to sort out the motive of a former US Army solider once deployed to Afghanistan who killed three people at a veterans home in Napa County, California, where he once stayed.
The Napa County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office identified the gunman as Albert Wong, 36, of Sacramento, a former resident at the Pathway Home, a residential programme within the Yountville Veterans Home. He was found dead next to the bodies of three employees Friday afternoon.
Authorities identified the victims as the home’s executive director, Christine Loeber, 48; therapist Jen Golick, 42; and Jennifer Gonzales, 29, a psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System.
Golick’s father-in-law, Bob Golick, said that Wong had been expelled from the programme.
Officials said the victims of the shooting brought a “unique sense of purpose and humanity to their jobs”.
California state Senator Bill Dodd said that Wong had post-traumatic stress disorder from his service in the Middle East.
After an hours-long stand-off, law enforcement officers entered the room at the veterans home where the gunman had been holding the hostages soon before 6pm. That is where they found the four bodies.
“This is a tragic piece of news, one that we were really hoping we wouldn’t have to come before the public to give,” said Chris Childs, assistant chief of the California Highway Patrol’s Golden Gate Division.
Childs said a rental car driven by Wong that was parked near the building drew a reaction from a bomb-sniffing dog. A Swat team and an explosives unit cleared the car.
Cissy Sherr, who with her husband became Wong’s legal guardian after his father died when he was a child, told the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat that she was devastated by the violence.
“Like many of our young men (in the military), he did see some rough times,” Sherr told the paper. “He’s always been soft-spoken, honest and patriotic and loyal. It’s heartbreaking.”
The first Napa County sheriff’s deputy to arrive at the scene exchanged gunfire with the gunman, who allowed some of the employees to leave before holing up in a room with the three hostages.
Childs said authorities credited the responding deputy for saving lives “by eliminating the ability of the suspect to go out and find other victims.”
The deputy was not injured.
Childs said authorities tried throughout the day to reach the gunman on his mobile phone to no avail. Three hostage negotiators were at the scene, but the stand-off dragged on throughout the day with no contact with the gunman or the hostages.
Yountville Mayor John Dunbar said the Pathway Home programme “has been unique from the very beginning,” partly because of the way it allowed veterans to interact with the community. Parts of the programme included activities such as fishing or bowling trips.
In some cases, those in the programme needed to be reintroduced into daily life, Dunbar said – that included being in crowded rooms, or places with loud noises.
Some local businesses would offer the veterans anything they needed, he said, to “come and relax”.
“Sometimes that’s part of the programming, to just be human,” Dunbar said.
Muriel Zimmer, an 84-year-old Air Force veteran of the Korean war, said she felt badly for Wong, saying she “cannot blame him. It’s because of the war.”
Older vets didn’t always interact with the Iraq and Afghan vets at The Pathway Home, because older vets tended to bring up their own war stories too much with the younger ones, Zimmer said. But she would exchange encouraging words and hugs with vets at The Pathway Home when she could.
“That PTSD programme has helped so many, and we are so afraid this is going to affect it,” she said.
Additional reporting by Associated Press and Reuters