News World Gunman and three hostages found dead at largest veterans home in the US after ten-hour siege

Gunman and three hostages found dead at largest veterans home in the US after ten-hour siege

gunman california
The gunman, reportedly wearing body armour, entered the Veterans Home of California where 1000 retired vets live. Photo: AAP
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Authorities say the gunman who murdered three mental health workers at a California veterans home was a 36-year-old former soldier and former patient of the those he killed.

The Napa County Sheriff’s Department said that gunman Albert Wong was found dead at the Yountville veterans facility along with his three victims.

They were identified as Jennifer Golick, 42, Christine Loeber, 48, and Jennifer Gonzalez, 29. Golick and Gonzalez were counsellors and Loeber was the director of the program.

Department of Defence officials said Wong was a decorated US soldier who served on active duty from May 2010 to August 2013. He spent a year in Afghanistan.

The bodies of the four were discovered nearly eight hours after Wong slipped into an employee’s going-away party in a building where combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan receive treatment, said California Highway Patrol Assistant Chief Chris Child.

The three female victims were employees of the nonprofit organisation Pathway Home, a treatment program housed on the campus of the Veterans Home of California in Yountville that works with PTSD sufferers.

“These brave women were accomplished professionals, dedicated to their careers of serving our nation’s veterans, working closely with those in the greatest need of attention,” Pathway Home said in a statement.

Reports in US media said Wong had been asked to leave the program two weeks ago for unspecified reasons.

Larry Kamer, husband of one of the program’s administrators, 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 had been taking place and where the hostages and their killer were later found dead.

Mr Child said investigators had not determined a motive for the attack or the reason the three victims were selected.

“It’s far too early to say if they were chosen at random,” Mr Child said.

“This is a tragic piece of news, one that we were really hoping we wouldn’t have to come before the public to give.”

Napa County Sheriff John Robertson said emergency response teams  surrounded what is the largest veterans home in the United States after Wong, wearing body armour and carrying a rifle, took the women hostage at 10.20am on Friday (local time).

During that initial assault on the complex Wong exchanged fire with a sheriff’s deputy.

“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,” Mr Child said.

Despite repeated efforts by police negotiators to communicate with Wong throughout the day, authorities’ last contact came at the start of the incident when he exchanged gunfire with the deputy.

“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,” Mr Child said.

James Musson, a 75-year-old Army veteran and resident of the facility, said many who lived at the home had voiced concerns about lax security, saying visitors could walk in and out without restriction and complaining 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.

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 US over the past few years.

Located in one of the Napa Valley’s most upscale towns and in the heart of California’s wine country, the veterans centre is the largest in the country and home to around 1000 elderly and disabled residents.

About 80 children in a nearby theatre on the complex’s sprawling grounds, which also include a nine-hole golf course, were put into lockdown but had never been in danger.

Veterans Home of California
Police lock down the home, located in Northern California’s wine district. Photo: AAP

Yvette Bennett, a wound-care supply worker who supplies the veterans centre, 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.

According to the California Department of Veterans website, the facility was founded in 1884 and houses men and women who served in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Its website says it offers residential accommodations with recreational, social, and therapeutic activities for independent living.

The grounds also are home to a 1200-seat theatre, a baseball stadium, bowling lanes, a nine-hole golf course, swimming pool and a military-operated store.

-with AAP

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