By Scott Bransford
YOUNTVILLE, Calif. (Reuters) – Details emerged on Saturday about a decorated former U.S. serviceman who took three women hostage at a California veterans home where he had undergone treatment for PTSD, in a standoff that ended when police found him and his captives dead.
The Veterans Home of California in Yountville, the largest such facility in the United States, was the scene on Friday of the latest mass shooting to rock a country already shocked by the slaughter last month of 17 people at a Florida high school.
Officials named the gunman as Albert Wong, 36, of Sacramento, and said he had served with the U.S. Army on active duty from May 2010 to August 2013 and spent a year in Afghanistan. He received four medals including an Afghanistan campaign medal and was awarded an Expert Marksmanship Badge with Rifle, the Pentagon said.
Wong had been a patient of Pathway Home, a program at the Yountville complex for former service members suffering post-traumatic stress disorder after deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. The San Francisco Chronicle, citing unnamed sources, said he had been asked to leave the program two weeks ago.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic situation in Yountville and mourn the loss of three incredible women who cared for our Veterans,” U.S. President Donald Trump said on Saturday on Twitter.
The incident, which began at about 10:30 a.m. local time on Friday at the sprawling facility in the heart of Napa Valley’s wine country, some 60 miles (100 km) north of San Francisco, ended almost eight hours later.
According to Larry Kamer, the husband of one of the Pathway Home administrators, Devereaux Smith, Wong walked into the program’s building carrying a rifle during a going-away party for one of the employees.
Kamer, who volunteers at the home, said his wife told him by phone during the siege that the gunman had let her and three other women leave the room where the party was taking place, but that he kept three female employees behind as hostages.
“These brave women were accomplished professionals, dedicated to their careers of serving our nation’s veterans, working closely with those of the greatest need of attention,” Pathway Home said in a statement.
The hostages who died were named as Pathway Home Executive Director Christine Loeber, 48, the program’s clinical director, therapist Jen Golick, 42, and Jennifer Gonzales, 29, a psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System.
Despite repeated efforts by police negotiators to communicate with Wong throughout the day, authorities said they had failed to make contact with the gunman after he exchanged gunfire with a sheriff’s deputy at the start of the standoff.
Officers who eventually entered the room where the hostages were being held found all four bodies there, police said. No details were immediately given about how the four died.
James Musson, a 75-year-old Army veteran and resident of the facility, told Reuters many who lived there voiced concerns about lax security, saying visitors could walk in and out without restriction and that public safety officers were not armed.
The siege came less than a month after a former student killed 17 people at a Florida high school using an assault-style rifle. That massacre in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Parkland sparked a student-led drive for new restrictions on gun sales to curb mass shootings that have occurred with frightening frequency in the United States in recent years.
(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago, and Ginger Gibson in Washington; Editing by Daniel Wallis and James Dalgleish)