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Mayor: Yountville victims were 'beautiful people,' gunman 'had demons'

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Three women and the man accused of killing them are dead after a shooting at a veterans hospital in Yountville. (KGO-TV)

Yountville Mayor John Dunbar says the employees killed in a hostage situation at the Veterans Home of California will be remembered as beautiful people and called the gunman "one of our heroes who clearly had demons."

Dunbar said the shooting at the Pathway Home was a "terrible tragedy."

Dunbar also serves on the board of directors for the Pathway Home, a treatment program for veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

RELATED: Victims, gunman identified in Yountville veterans home shooting tragedy

He says the three women who were killed "lived their lives selflessly to serve others."

The shooting victims were identified as The Pathway Home Executive Director Christine Loeber, 48; Clinical Director Jennifer Golick, 42; and Jennifer Gonzales, 32, a clinical psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System. A family friend told The Associated Press that Gonzales was seven months pregnant.

"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.

Dunbar said the program has served over 450 veterans in more than a decade. Six members are currently in the nonprofit men's residential recovery program for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who suffer from PTSD or traumatic brain injuries, he said.

VIDEO: Yountville mayor update on veterans home tragedy
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Yountville Mayor John F. Dunbar and California Secretary of Department of Veterans Affairs Vito Imbasciani gave an update on the tragedy at the veterans home.

The program is housed at the Veterans Home of California-Yountville in the Napa Valley wine country region. The largest veterans home in the nation cares for about 1,000 elderly and disabled vets.

Golick's father-in-law, Mike Golick, said in an interview she had recently expelled Wong from the program. After Wong entered the building, Golick called her husband to say she had been taken hostage by the former soldier, her father-in-law said.

He didn't hear from his wife again.

Marjorie Morrison, the founder of a nonprofit organization known as PsychArmor, recalled Gonzales as a "brilliant" talent who did amazing work with veterans with PTSD, and also focused on helping college campuses successfully reintegrate veterans when they return to school.

Gonzales, a mother-to-be, had planned to travel to Washington, D.C. this weekend to celebrate her wedding anniversary, family friend Vasiti Ritova said.

A GoFundMe account has been set up to help pay for Gonzales' funeral costs.

Loeber, who had taken over The Pathway Home 18 months ago, was known by all as dedicated and caring.

"She would sleep in her office more often than not because she had to be there to fill a shift, that's the kind of personal dedication she showed all of us," Dunbar said.

Family friend Tom Turner said Loeber would be helping others understand and deal with the tragedy if she were still alive.

"She'd have a better perspective than I would," he said. "And she wouldn't be as angry I am."

Dunbar said all three of the women were excellent at what they did, and will be sorely missed. He added that veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan come home with "a lot of need for special care."

TAKE ACTION: Help for veterans of all eras and their families

Dunbar says the Pathway Home will continue to operate. He says the program's board will meet later Saturday to discuss the plan.

Friends and co-workers remembered Gonzales as a "brilliant" psychologist who was committed to both her family and her job treating veterans with post-traumatic stress.

Ritova, whose niece cares for Gonzales' grandmother, said she would spend time caring for her grandmother and would visit her every other week. She said the loss was "devastating."

"She was always singing to her grandma, giving her baths. She was always coming to look after her grandma - so that is how we come to know this sweet lady," she said.

Marjorie Morrison, who founded the nonprofit group PsychArmor, said in addition to working with vets with PTSD, Gonzales also focused helping college campuses successfully reintegrate veterans when they return to school.

Gonzales partnered with PsychArmor to create the VA Campus Toolkit, which PsychArmor put online. Many colleges use it, she said.

"She was brilliant for being so young," Morrison said. "Absolutely brilliant." She added that PscyhArmor partners take on these projects without pay, which "says a lot about someone's character."

Executive Assistant to the Health Care System Director Judi Cheary released a statement saying, "Jennifer Gonzales, Psy.D., was a Clinical Psychologist with the San Francisco VA Health Care System's Student Veterans Health Program. She provided care and support to Veterans at the Pathway Home. Dr. Gonzales completed her predoctoral internship at the Iowa City VA Medical Center where she participated primarily in rotations for PTSD and Family therapy. After graduation, she went on to complete a postdoctoral fellowship at the Santa Rosa VA Clinic where she focused on working with veterans with PTSD, caregivers, and couples. She also worked with student veterans as a Clinical Coordinator at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System. In her role with the Student Veteran Health Program, she split her time between working on campus with Veterans at Napa Valley College and working at The Pathway Home, a residential program for veterans returning to school through academic or vocational programs. She was extremely passionate about her work with Veterans and her love for her family. She was bright, energetic, creative and a wonderful colleague and friend."

A daylong siege at The Pathway Home ended Friday evening with the discovery of four bodies, including the gunman. He was identified as Albert Wong, 36, a former Army rifleman who served a year in Afghanistan in 2011-2012.

Investigators were still trying to determine when and why Wong killed two executives and a psychologist at The Pathway Home, a nonprofit post-traumatic stress disorder program at the Veterans Home of California-Yountville in the Napa Valley wine country region.

It was "far too early to say if they were chosen at random" because investigators had not yet determined a motive, California Highway Patrol Assistant Chief Chris Childs said.

Gov. Jerry Brown ordered flags flown at half-staff at the capitol in memory of the victims.

RELATED: Governor Brown orders flags flown at half-staff for victims of Yountville shooting

"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.

The Pathway Home is located on the sprawling campus of the veterans center, which cares for about 1,000 elderly and disabled vets.

It is the largest veterans home in the nation, according to the state Department of Veterans Affairs.

RELATED: What to know about the Veterans Home of California Yountville

Wong went to the campus about 53 miles north of San Francisco on Friday morning, slipping into a going-away party for some employees of The Pathway House.

Larry Kamer told The Associated Press that his wife, Devereaux Smith, called him to say that the gunman had entered the room quietly, letting some people leave while taking others hostage.

A Napa Valley sheriff's deputy exchanged gunshots with the hostage-taker at about 10:30 a.m. but after that nothing was heard from Wong or his hostages despite daylong efforts to contact him, authorities said.

RELATED: Senator says Yountville gunman has PTSD, was asked to leave veterans program

Army veteran and resident Bob Sloan, 73, was working at the home's TV station when a co-worker came in and said he had heard four gunshots coming from The Pathway Home. Sloan sent alerts for residents to stay put.

A group of about 80 students who were on the home's grounds were safely evacuated after being locked down, Napa County Sheriff John Robertson said. The teens from Justin-Siena High School were at a theater rehearsing a play.

"They were a distance away from the shooting situation," Robertson said.

The bodies of Wong and the women were found at about 6 p.m. While authorities had the building under siege for about eight hours they didn't enter it.

PHOTOS: Active shooter, hostages taken at Yountville veterans home

Wong's rental car was later found nearby. A bomb-sniffing dog alerted authorities to something on the car but the only thing found was a cellphone, authorities said.

Yvette Bennett, a wound-care supply worker who supplies the veterans center, was turned back when she tried to deliver what she called urgently needed medical supplies for two patients inside.

Of all the medical institutions she has worked with, "this is the most placid, calm, serene place," she said.

Earlier this week, when she last visited, she asked a doctor, "What's your magic here?"

"And then 48 hours later this happens," Bennett said.

The gunman has been identified as 36-year-old Albert Wong of Sacramento who was a former member of the Pathway Home Program at the veterans facility.

About 1,000 male and female disabled and elderly veterans from World War II and the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq live at the home, which was founded in 1884, according to its website.

On Saturday afternoon, the Pathway Home released a statement saying,"In the wake of yesterday's tragic shooting at The Pathway Home, family members, residents, staff, board members and other volunteers have been gathering to help coordinate care for the program's residents, to console one another, to plan ceremonies to honor the victims of yesterday's fatal shooting, and to respond to an outpouring of support from the community and the nation.

Family members, friends and colleagues of Christine Loeber, Dr. Jennifer Gonzales, and Dr. Jennifer Golick - the three staff members who were killed yesterday - met with representatives from the U.S. Veterans Administration, the California Department of Veterans Affairs, Napa County Mental Health, the California Highway Patrol and the Town of Yountville. Dr. Vito Imbasciani, California's Secretary of Veterans Affairs, took part in the session, designed to help families and friends better cope with the tragedy and offer any and all appropriate resources to them.

Therapists and social workers were also on hand to work with The Pathway Home's resident Veterans as well as staff members who survived yesterday's incident.

Those residents have been accommodated in temporary housing and are continuing to receive care, utilizing a mix of resources from the VA, Napa County, and other providers. The Pathway Home's Board of Directors is developing a long-term plan for these Veterans so they do not experience a lapse in services. We are grateful to the San Francisco VA for stepping in so quickly to provide ongoing resources.

The Board has also announced its intention to hold a service to honor the memory of our colleagues, which will be held at 6:00 PM on Monday, March 19 at the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater, 100 California Drive Yountville, CA 94599

Also, in cooperation with the Town of Yountville, The Pathway Home and other mental health providers will participate in a community forum on mental health and public safety, also next week in Yountville, with details to follow.

The Pathway Home also announced that it had established a fund to provide direct support to the families of Ms. Loeber and Drs. Gonzales and Golick. Donations can be sent to 3 Brave Women Fund c/o Mentis, 709 Franklin Street, Napa CA 94559. #3bravewomenfund

Those who wish to provide support to The Pathway Home directly are encouraged to donate at www.thepathwayhome.org, where messages of condolence and support can also be posted.

We thank everyone in our community and across the nation for their expressions of support."

Click here if you'd like to help pay for Gonzales' funeral costs.

Click here for full coverage on the deadly shooting at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville.

Associated Press writers Ellen Knickmeyer, Janie, Har, Olga R. Rodriguez, Paul Elias and Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco, Amanda Lee Myers in Los Angeles and Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.

Related Topics:
shootinghostagenapa countypolicestandoffmurderhomicidehomicide investigationwoman killedcrimeYountville veterans home shootingYountville
(Copyright ©2018 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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