YOUNTVILLE — The all-day standoff between law enforcement and a gunman with three hostages at the Veterans Home of California ended tragically Friday evening with the announcement that the shooter and his hostages were dead.
Chris Childs, assistant chief of the CHP’s Bay Area division, said the bodies of the male suspect and three female hostages were found shortly before 6 p.m.
The Napa County Sheriff-Coroner will release the names of the victims and the suspect after next-of-kin are notified.
Childs said it was still an active crime scene, with more information about the crime to be released later. The time and cause of death were not disclosed.
Napa County Sheriff John Robertson said his department will “invest a lot more hours, if not days” into the investigation.
A task force of law enforcement agencies descended on the Yountville facility after an armed man with a rifle burst into a farewell party at The Pathway Home, a nonprofit on the Vets Home grounds, and took three staff members hostage while releasing others, law enforcement said.
The suspect, who exchanged gunfire with the first Napa County Sheriff’s deputy to arrive, is believed to have been a former member of The Pathway Home, a privately run program for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with emotional traumas.
Early reports said the man, 36 years old, had been discharged from the treatment program two weeks ago.
Childs praised a Napa County sheriff’s deputy for engaging in an exchange of gunfire with the active shooter when he arrived on scene shortly before 10:30 a.m. This may have prevented the gunman from finding more victims, he said.
Dressed in black and wearing body armor, the active shooter was reported holed up in Pathway’s Madison Building, also known as Building G, on the Vets Home grounds. Scores of officers from many area law enforcement agencies had the building surrounded.
Negotiators from the FBI were called to the scene, but officials said they never made contact with the gunman who did not answer his cellphone or other phones in the building.
In a mid-afternoon news conference, Napa County Sheriff John Robertson said officials knew who the gunman was, but weren’t releasing his name and did not know what his motive was.
The Vets Home, with more than 800 residents and hundreds of additional employees, was placed on lockdown for most of the day, but authorities said the surrounding Yountville community was not at risk.
A rental vehicle belonging to the suspect was located on the grounds of the Veterans Home. A bomb-sniffing dog indicated the vehicle might contain explosives, but this turned out to not be the case, Childs said.
Larry Kamer told The Associated Press that his wife, Devereaux Smith, a fundraiser for The Pathway Home, had been attending a going-away party at the program when a gunman had entered the room, letting some people leave while taking others hostage.
When the initial report came in at 10:20, dozens of law enforcement officers from throughout Napa County and beyond descended on the Veterans Home and set up a perimeter on the Veterans Home grounds.
David Ferguson, a resident of the Vets Home, called the incident “crazy,” asking, “What’s a gunman doing here? It’s a bunch of old farts. Most of the people around here are in their 80s and 90s and have a walker, wheelchair or a scooter.”
Jane Phillips of Napa was mid-way through a round of golf at the adjacent Vintners golf course when it was ordered evacuated. Told of the armed standoff at the Veterans Home, she said, “I’m out of here.”
Golfer Michael Berg of Yountville said he wasn’t surprised that his quiet town was the site of an “armed shooter” report. “It seems like the safest place in the world,” he said of Yountville, but gun violence in America is “endemic,” he said.
“I think weapons are too easy to get. Is the price worth it?” Berg said.
Among those ordered to shelter in place were some 80 theater students from Justin-Siena High School in Napa who were rehearsing “Guys and Dolls” inside the Lincoln Theater on the Veterans Home grounds. The theater was not near the location of the police standoff.
Adam Green, father of a Justin ninth-grader, said he and his daughter were communicating via text messages, he from the police perimeter, she from the Lincoln Theater. He was there to make sure she was OK, he said.
Justin-Siena reported early Friday afternoon that students were in the process of being released from the theater to cars and the Justin-Siena bus.
Kay Klykun of Napa also joined the small crowd of waiting relatives, saying that her 96-year-old father was a home resident who was presumed to be sheltering in place.
“It’s such a scary situation,” she said. “It’s such a peaceful place. I’m sure he’s OK but at 96 he could get pretty scared. I’m not going anywhere until I see my dad.”
The incident drew some two dozen reporters to the Veterans Home, including six TV trucks with satellite dishes. The story was picked up by the national media. The Register fielded media calls from throughout California as well as from the East Coast.
Gov. Jerry Brown issued a statement Friday evening: “Anne and I are deeply saddened by the horrible violence at the Yountville Veterans Home, which tragically took the lives of three people dedicated to serving our veterans. Our hearts go out to their families and loved ones and the entire community of Yountville.”
Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff in recognition of the victims and their families, Brown said.
Register reporters Maria Sestito and Jennifer Huffman, online editor Samie Hartley, City Editor Kevin Courtney and The Associated Press contributed to this story.
On Wednesday at schools across the U.S., including Napa, daily activity will come to a standstill for 17 minutes – one minute for each person who died in the Parkland, Florida school shooting exactly one month earlier.
Planners of the National School Walkout have been urging students, teachers and faculty to step away from their classes to protest gun violence and urge lawmakers toward tighter controls of firearm sales, in the wake of the killing of 17 students Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
In Napa, school leaders are finding a variety of ways to honor the Florida students. Both Napa High School and Vintage High School are planning 17-minute observances on campus Wednesday.
“Rather than making this a politically divided issue at Napa High School we want to remember the 17 Victims in Parkland,” said Angela Alvarez-Cendejas, a student organizer.
“We will be holding a Remembrance ceremony at 10 a.m. in our quad to show empathy and let the victims’ families and friends know that there are people everywhere who are listening and who want to make a change,” she said.
Napa High Principal Annie Petrie said, “While educators refrain from participating in political discourse, we encourage our students to speak honestly and to act with empathy. Our students have a vision to create schools, communities, and a world where all kids feel safe and heard.”
“When we highlight student voice it is inspiring ... when we actually listen with the intent to learn and to act, it is transformational,” Petri said in a statement.
Vintage High School is planning its own 17-minute observance on campus. Although final details of the event had not yet been settled, principal Mike Pearson said faculty members are planning activities that would “pay respect to the victims in Florida, that build community at Vintage (and) provide a space for student voices and student empathy.”
Students declining to take part will be allowed to stay in their classrooms for homework or extra academic help, said Pearson, noting the 10 a.m. event will fall within a regularly scheduled school period for those activities.
On Wednesday, Justin-Siena High School announced it would hold a “walk-to” event honoring Parkland survivors and their families on the morning of the walkout campaign. Students at the private Catholic academy will leave their classrooms on Maher Street and walk to a “well-planned event” to be organized with help from the school’s student leadership team, chief operating officer Robert Bailey said in an email to school parents.
At the Blue Oak School, a private academy with just over 110 students from kindergarten to the eighth grade, school directors are organizing a 17-minute observance nearby at Jefferson and Hayes streets 30 feet from Blue Oak’s middle school, where junior high students will hold up signs supporting survivors of the Parkland attack.
The curbside observance grew out of two meetings involving staff, parents and middle-schoolers, according to Dan Schwartz, head of the school.
Although gun-control supporters have used the Florida shooting as an example of the need to restrict gun ownership and challenge the lobbying might of the National Rifle Association, Schwartz described a consensus at Blue Oak that its ceremony should stress children’s safety rather than politics.
“It wasn’t necessarily about taking a specific political stance on the NRA, it was about safe schools,” he said Tuesday. “(It’s being done) out of empathy for the students who died in Parkland, and in solidarity with Parkland students who called for action to bring the conversation forward on keeping schools safer. Our students talked about it and decided this was something they were comfortable doing.”
While Blue Oak’s students of junior-high age hold signs, those in the fourth and fifth grades will be on hand as observers and will write an article about the event for a school newspaper, school officials said.
How best to involve 9- and 10-year-olds was a particular point of discussion because of the different times when such children start engaging with the wider world, according to Julie Inalsingh, who teaches fourth-graders at Blue Oak.
“When I took the temperature of fourth-graders, some of the kids were not very interested right now – they feel very safe in school and don’t feel a need to act like activists yet,” she said. “But some other kids have already attended marches with their parents. Some kids are fired up at this age, and others are not.”
At St. Helena High School, the new “Students for Change” club is planning student walk-out for 17 minutes. “Our purpose is to demonstrate our solidarity and honor those who have lost their lives in school shootings, with a focus on the most recent killings in Florida,” said Sydney Becker, a student organizer. “As students, we want to feel safe at school; we want all students and teachers in America to be safe at school.”
Washington, D.C. will be the venue for March for Our Lives on March 24, when tens of thousands are expected to converge on the nation’s capital to demonstrate on Pennsylvania Avenue. A campaign website lists more than 500 companion protests scheduled that same day, including events planned for Santa Rosa and Benicia.
Meanwhile, the Network for Public Education, an advocacy organization for public schools, has announced a “national day of action” on April 20, the anniversary of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in which two students killed 12 schoolmates, a teacher and themselves.
The network is encouraging teachers and students to organize sit-ins, walkouts, marches and any other events to protest gun violence in schools.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Only one Napa County government race on the June ballot has more than one candidate, with Supervisor Diane Dillon and farmer Cio Perez to square off for the 3rd District supervisor seat.
The filing deadline passed on Friday for the June 5 election. Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, Sheriff John Robertson, District Attorney Allison Haley, Auditor-Controller Tracy Schulze, Treasurer-Tax Collector Tamie Frasier and Assessor-Recorder-County Clerk John Tuteur are running unopposed.
A calm seems to have settled over the Napa County election world. That’s in contrast to two years ago, when two of three supervisor races each had multiple candidates with diverse viewpoints.
This June, the Dillon-Perez contest is the only county government race offering a choice. The sprawling, mostly rural 3rd supervisorial district stretches from Napa north to Calistoga and east to Lake Berryessa. It includes the heart of Napa Valley wine country.
Dillon has been on the Board of Supervisors since 2003 and is seeking a fifth term. Before that, she was active in such efforts as the successful 1990 campaign to pass Measure J to give citizens a direct voice in agricultural land protection. The county native practiced law locally from 1982 to 2002.
“I stand on my record of experience and of protecting the Napa Valley, as I have done for 30 years,” Dillon said.
She talked about her efforts to protect the agricultural watershed. She mentioned working on a 2017 agreement between the county and city of Napa to study how mountainside developments affect city reservoirs.
Perez was named 2011 Agriculturalist of the Year by Napa County Farm Bureau. His family has grown Napa County wine grapes since 1935. He has been active with the Farm Bureau for almost 30 years.
“I think with as much farming and farming activity that we have in Napa County, it’s important to have someone with farming experiencing participating at the (Board of Supervisors) level,” Perez said.
Perez expressed concern about the amount of winery commercialization that he said seems to be expanding and affects the quality of life people enjoy here.
Wagenknecht has been a supervisor since 1999 and is seeking a sixth and what he said will be a final term. His will be the only name on the ballot for the 1st District supervisorial race.
The 1st District includes most of downtown Napa, the Browns Valley area and the Carneros region.
Robertson was appointed sheriff by the Board of Supervisors in 2012. He won the first contested sheriff’s election in a quarter-century in 2014. This year, the contest is once again uncontested.
Haley was appointed district attorney by the Board of Supervisors in 2016 to replace retiring District Attorney Gary Lieberstein.
Two Napa County residents will be involved in the primary race for the 5th Congressional District seat. One is incumbent Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena. The other is Jason Kishineff of American Canyon representing the Green Party.
“It has been my honor to represent the place where I was born, grew up, raised my children and still live today,” Thompson said in a press release. “The support of so many across our diverse district is humbling, from supervisors to mayors to sheriffs to business leaders and to community advocates.”
Thompson has represented the area in Congress since 1998. He said his unfinished work includes ensuring criminals and dangerous individuals can’t easily obtain guns, protecting the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding individuals to own firearms and strengthening and protecting Social Security and MediCare.
Kishineff in a press release said Democrats such as Thompson have failed to represent labor, the environment and immigrants. The release describes Kishineff as a progressive and an environmentalist/social justice warrior.
He said he is endorsed by Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution group, the Sonoma County Green Party and the Solano County Green Party, among others. He said he will refuse all donations from corporate super PACS.
Napa County election officials said Nils Palsson filed a candidate’s statement for the Congressional race. The Sonoma County resident on his website calls himself a social theorist and holistic systems designer and an advocate for social, racial, environmental and economic justice.
Congressional candidates can file to run in their home counties, so it wasn’t clear on Friday afternoon how many people are running for Thompson’s seat. The 5th District covers Napa County and parts of Contra Costa, Lake, Solano and Sonoma counties.