Ex-soldier kills 3, self at Calif. recovery facility
Albert Wong had been kicked out of the program.
Albert Wong had been kicked out of the nonprofit organization’s program before returning armed with at least one rifle during a party.
The war veterans chosen for rehabilitation are carefully selected at the Pathway Home, somewhere at the intersection of significant need and a willingness to get better. The few selected must want to be there.
Former Army infantryman Albert Wong, before he killed three clinicians and himself Friday at the Pathway Home’s facility in Yountville, Calif., was not doing as well as his fellow veterans seeking care for issues like post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Apparently he was given numerous chances,” California state Sen. Bill Dodd said on Saturday. Wong, 36, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, was told to leave the program two weeks ago, Dodd said.
Yet Wong returned. He arrived Friday morning armed with at least one rifle during a farewell party at the nonprofit organization, which reintegrates veterans into civilian life.
Larry Kamer told The Associated Press that his wife, staffer Devereaux Smith, called and said Wong entered the room quietly and allowed some people to leave, including her.
A Napa Valley sheriff ’s deputy arrived before 10:30 a.m. local time and exchanged gunfire with Wong. “Many bullets were fired,” Sheriff John Robertson said in a briefing Friday, which authorities believed forced Wong into a single room at the Pathway facility with three women: Christine Loeber, 48; Jennifer Golick, 42; and Jennifer Gonzales, 29.
And then nothing. Teams of federal, state and local law enforcement officials and hostage negotiators from three agencies had been unable to make contact with Wong through his cellphone or the captives’ phones at the Pathway Home, the redtiled stucco live-in residency on the sprawling campus of the Veterans Home of California, the largest of its kind in the country.
“There is zero knowledge about what was going on inside,” California Highway Patrol spokesman Robert Nacke told The Post. “Everything was isolated to one room.”
A team of police stormed the room at about 6 p.m. local time to find the bodies of the three women and the gunman. It is unknown when they were killed. It was “far too early to say if they were chosen at random,” California Highway Patrol Assistant Chief Chris Childs said.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic situation in Yountville and mourn the loss of three incredible women who cared for our Veterans,” President Donald Trump said Saturday.
VA Secretary David Shulkin also added condolences late Friday night. “We are deeply saddened and affected by the tragic outcome of the hostage situation at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville and extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones involved,” Shulkin said.
California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered flags flown at halfstaff at the capitol in memory of the victims.
The episode brought tension and loss back to the 3,000-strong community in the heart of Napa Valley, still reeling from a series of devastating wildfires in October. The veterans home had been evacuated during the fires.
Some 80 high school students visiting a theater on the property of the veterans home were put in a “lockdown situation” before being evacuated, Napa County Sheriff John Robertson told reporters. Nearby facilities, including a golf course, were also evacuated.
Loeber was the executive director of The Pathway Home, and Golick was a clinical director there. Gonzales was a clinical psychologist with the San Francisco VA Health Care System, a veterans hospital that works closely with the organization.
Wong served in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012 as an infantryman, according to Army records obtained by The Post. He ended three years active duty in 2013 with a standard set of awards for his rank as a specialist.
His awards summary is missing a Good Conduct Medal, an award automatically presented to soldiers with three years of continuous service without disciplinary infractions, indicating a possible blemish on his performance record.
VA has cautioned against linking post-traumatic stress among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and violent behavior. Those veterans are typically male, relatively young with an average age of 34, and susceptible to other risk factors such as alcohol abuse, the agency said, making it difficult to assign PTSD as an indicator of violence more than other issues.
The Pathway Home occupies part of the massive Veterans Home campus, residency to 1,000 elderly or disabled veterans, according to the California state VA department.
The organization opened in 2008 to work with male soldiers returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the organization’s website says. It has helped 450 veterans since then, in small groups slightly larger than a dozen veterans faced with the residual effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury hampering adjustment to civilian life.
A woman who declined to give her name cries after placing flowers at a sign at the Pathway Home’s facility in Yountville, Calif., on Saturday morning.