Gun violence in the US

Gunman and three hostages found dead at California veterans home after eight-hour stand-off

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 March, 2018, 3:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 March, 2018, 6:51pm

Three women and a gunman who held them hostage at a California home for US war veterans were found dead inside the room where he was holed up on Friday, bringing a violent end to an all-day stand-off with police at the facility, authorities said.

The Napa County sheriff-coroner’s office identified the man as 36-year-old Albert Wong from Sacramento, who was formerly housed at the facility.

A state senator whose district includes the area, Bill Dodd, earlier told reporters the gunman was a member of Pathway Home, a programme housed at the complex for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Killed were programme Executive Director Christine Loeber, 48; Clinical Director Jennifer Golick, 42; and Jennifer Gonzalez, 29, a clinical 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.

“This is a tragic piece of news, one that we were really hoping we wouldn’t have to come before the public to give,” California Highway Patrol spokesman Chris Childs told reporters outside the facility in Yountville, a picturesque town in the heart of Napa Valley’s wine country about 97km (60 miles) north of San Francisco.

Despite repeated efforts by police negotiators to talk to the suspect throughout the day, authorities said they had failed to make contact after he exchanged gunfire with a sheriff’s deputy.

“We credit [the deputy] with saving the lives of others in the area by eliminating the ability of the suspect to go out and find other victims,” Childs said.

The siege came less than a month after a former student with a rifle killed 17 people at a Florida high school. That massacre touched off a student-led drive for new restrictions on gun sales to curb mass shootings in the US.

The Veterans Home of California, a residence for about 1,000 former US soldiers, is the largest facility of its kind in the country. The Pathway Home is in a separate building on the campus.

The entire complex, its staff and residents were put under a security lockdown during the siege, which began at about 10:30am local time and ended nearly eight hours later.

Childs said officers who eventually entered the room where the hostages were known to have been held found all four bodies there. He did not elaborate on how the victims or gunman died.

The incident began when Wong walked into the Pathway Home building carrying a rifle during a going-away party for one of the employees, according to Larry Kamer, the husband of one of the programme's administrators.

Kamer, who volunteers at the home and was acting as an unofficial spokesman, said his wife told him by telephone during the siege that the gunman allowed her and three other women to leave the room where the party was, while three female employees stayed behind as hostages.

The Napa County sheriff’s deputy who confronted the gunman arrived at the scene within four minutes of the first reports of gunfire, Sheriff John Robertson said.

A resident of the home, identified as Rod Allen by the CBS television affiliate KPIX-TV, said the gunman took the hostages after allowing some people at the party to leave and he fired about 30 shots.

James Musson, a 75-year-old army veteran and resident of the facility, said many who lived there voiced concerns about lax security, saying visitors could walk in and out easily and guards were not armed.

“There might be something that might provide a greater degree of security, I don’t know if this event will trigger something like that,” he said.