Gunman and 3 hostages found dead after siege at California veterans home

YOUNTVILLE, Calif., March 9 (Reuters) - A former U.S. serviceman opened fire at a California veterans home where he had undergone treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, taking three employees hostage in an all-day standoff that ended when police found him and his female captives dead.

"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 located in the heart of Napa Valley's wine country about 60 miles (100 km) north of San Francisco.

Despite repeated efforts by police negotiators to communicate with the suspect 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 outset of the confrontation.

"We credit him (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.

Authorities later identified the gunman as 36-year-old Albert Wong, a former patient of Pathway Home, a program housed at the veterans complex for former service members suffering PTSD after deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Photos from the scene:

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Shots fired at Yountville Veterans' Home in California
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Shots fired at Yountville Veterans' Home in California
YOUNTVILLE, CA - MARCH 09: Vanessa Flores (R) embraces another woman after she leaves the locked down Veterans Home of California during an active shooter turned hostage situation on March 9, 2018 in Yountville, California. A lone gunman opened fire and is holding three hostages inside the largest veterans facility in the United States founded in 1884. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
YOUNTVILLE, CA - MARCH 09: Chris Childs, assistant chief of the California Highway Patrol, speaks at a press conference after an active shooter turned hostage situation at the Veterans Home of California on March 9, 2018 in Yountville, California. A gunman armed with a rifle and three hostages were found dead at the largest veterans facility in the United States founded in 1884. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
YOUNTVILLE, CA - MARCH 09: A Napa County Sheriff's helicopter is seen at a golf course during an active shooter situation at the Veterans Home of California on March 9, 2018 in Yountville, California. A lone gunman opened fire and is holding three hostages inside the largest veterans facility in the United States founded in 1884. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
YOUNTVILLE, CA - MARCH 09: Law enforcement personnel are seen at a building entrance after an active shooter turned hostage situation at the Veterans Home of California on March 9, 2018 in Yountville, California. A military veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder and three hostages were found dead at the largest veterans facility in the United States founded in 1884. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)
YOUNTVILLE, CA - MARCH 09: A woman peeks out of a school bus leaving the Veterans Home of California during an active shooter situation on March 9, 2018 in Yountville, California. A lone gunman opened fire and is holding three hostages inside the largest veterans facility in the United States founded in 1884. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)

The Veteran's Home is situated past vineyards and the Vintner's Golf Club in Yountville, California, U.S., on Saturday, March 1, 2008. Napa Valley's Yountville, once home to blue-collar workers, military veterans and dive bars, is becoming a haven for business leaders, celebrities and the expensive hotels and restaurants that draw them. Yountville, about 60 miles north of San Francisco, boasts restaurants with more Michelin stars per capita than any city in the U.S.

(Photo by Chip Chipman/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Yountville Veterans Home Update ⬇️ https://t.co/Y4Wt0dK9kZ
Man with automatic weapon reported at Veterans Home https://t.co/8UXXQ7Gthc
Viewers saw police racing to Veterans Home of California-Yountville, the largest veterans’ home in the United State… https://t.co/w4jMicJN3r
California veterans home on lockdown amid reports of active shooter https://t.co/3RkzLMsKK0
DEVELOPING: Gunman has taken hostages at veterans' home in California, Napa County fire official says… https://t.co/ZsiHQdV3we
California officials report hostages taken in 'active shooter situation' at veterans' home https://t.co/UvbWFnjSBf https://t.co/UQE6wItX7t
#BREAKING UPDATE: Active shooter reported at veterans home in Yountville. Shots reportedly fired near main dining h… https://t.co/lhLk96IWcW
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The San Francisco Chronicle, citing unidentified sources, said Wong, who lived in Sacramento, had been asked to leave the program two weeks ago.

The three hostages all worked for the program. They were later identified 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.

"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 siege came less than a month after a former student with an assault-style 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 that have occurred with frightening frequency in the United States over the past few years.

The Veterans Home of California, a residence for about 1,000 aging and disabled U.S. military veterans, is the largest facility of its kind in the United States. The Pathway Home is housed in a separate building on the campus.

LOCKDOWN

The entire complex, its staff and residents were placed under a security lockdown during the siege, which began at about 10:30 a.m. local time (1830 GMT Friday) and ended nearly eight hours later.

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

The incident began when the gunman calmly 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 program's administrators, Devereaux Smith.

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

The Napa County sheriff's deputy who confronted the gunman had 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. He fired about 30 shots, the resident said.

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. "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. (Reporting by Scott Bransford in Yountville Additional reporting by Andrew Hay Writing by Steve Gorman Editing by Paul Tait)

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