Four people are dead – three of them beloved women who dedicated their lives to helping wounded warriors. Their names: Christine Loeber, Jennifer Golick and Jennifer Gonzales Shushereba.
The women, all staff members of The Pathway Home in Yountville, died after being taken hostage in the program’s building on the grounds of the Veterans Home on Friday morning.
A responding deputy arrived within minutes of the report, and encountered people fleeing the area. The deputy exchanged fire with the suspect, who was later identified as former Army soldier and recently discharged Pathway Home client Albert Wong, 36.
After that, hundreds of law enforcement officials responded to the call. Officials attempted to make contact with Wong to no avail. Finally, they used technology to expedite the process, sending a robot equipped with a camera into the building to assess the situation. It was then, at about 6 p.m., that officials learned that everyone was dead. All four people inside had been shot.
“In these kinds of situations … you have to hope that, while there’s no gunshots being heard or anything, that nobody’s been killed,” Napa County Sheriff’s Capt. Steve Blower said. Although they hadn’t had contact with the suspect, law enforcement officials may have waited to go into the building in order to prevent causing a potentially more dangerous reaction from the suspect.
“The only reaction you’re looking for is for him to lay down his weapons and make it a peaceful resolution,” Blower said. Once the suspect and hostages are out of view, he said, it’s difficult to know what’s going on. “You don’t want to cause anybody to get hurt by your actions.”
On Friday night, the victims’ families were notified and their identities were released.
“I was with the families most of the day and with them when they got the news,” Napa Rotarian Gary Rose said Saturday. “(It was) one of the worst moments of my life.”
Shushereba, 32, a clinical psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, was 26 weeks pregnant. The baby did not survive.
"Today we mourn the loss of our beloved Jennifer: daughter, sister, wife, and mother-to-be," her family said in a statement on Saturday. "Jennifer and her colleagues died doing the work they were so passionate about – helping those in critical need."
"Jennifer was adored by all who knew her and will always be remembered for her unconditional love and incredibly giving heart," they said.
“We’re so devastated,” Vasiti Ritova, a family friend, said Saturday. Ritova, whose sister and niece acted as caregivers to Shushereba’s grandmother, said that “every grandmother should have a granddaughter like Jennifer.”
Shushereba visited nearly every week, Ritova said, but was going to miss this weekend because she and her husband were planning to fly to Washington D.C. on Saturday to celebrate their first wedding anniversary.
“It’s impossible to understand – we keep losing people this way,” Ritova said. “It’s so sad.”
“Jenn was a sunny, beautiful, unfailingly kind little girl who grew up to be a sunny, beautiful unfailingly kind woman,” Susan Hennessey said on Twitter. Hennessey, who said she’s been friends with Shushereba for 26 years, tweeted that she was “brilliant,” caring and always a “helper.”
“She dedicated her life to helping veterans who were hurting,” Hennessey said. “Jenn was good, from head to toe. Thoroughly good in a way that is exceptionally rare.”
Golick, 42, of St. Helena was the clinical director of The Pathway Home. A Calistoga native, she is survived by her 8-year-old daughter and her husband.
“Her life was big and full, and our memories of her will be nothing less,” Jennifer Datlik McDonald, Jennifer’s best friend, said Saturday. McDonald, who now lives in Texas, said that she and Golick grew up together in Calistoga.
“We met in Miss Thrift’s first grade class,” McDonald said in a Facebook message to the Register. “Growing up in Calistoga, when you choose a best friend, you choose them for life.”
Two years ago, said McDonald, she and Golick’s husband conspired to plan Golick a surprise 40th birthday party. She and Golick had talked on the phone on the days leading up to the party.
“She had absolutely no idea that I was actually calling her from San Francisco, where we were preparing for her party,” McDonald said. “When she showed up at the restaurant, still completely clueless, we all jumped up and yelled “SURPRISE!!” And the look on her face was one that I will remember always. She was so floored that her people showed up. It was the best, happiest day.”
Golick graduated from Calistoga Junior Senior High School in 1994, studied psychology at UC Davis, and earned her master’s degree from Sonoma State University.
“My mind is spinning,” McDonald said. “I just can’t put into words what a wonderful human being the world has lost.”
Kim Hale, spokesperson with UC Davis, confirmed that Golick was a member of the 1998 undergraduate class.
“Clearly our hearts go out to Jennifer’s family and all those involved,” Hale said. “It’s completely tragic.”
Loeber, 48, was brought on as the executive director in 2016 to help reboot The Pathway Home program, which had a short hiatus due to problems with funding. Colleagues called her “passionate” about helping the veterans.
“It was Christine’s goal to help them (veterans) go from military success to civilian success and I think that sometimes that’s hard,” Dorothy Salmon, chairwoman of The Pathway Home Board of Directors, said Saturday.
Salmon said that Loeber was like a daughter to her.
“I loved her madly,” Salmon said. “She was smart, loving, funny, energetic and totally devoted to helping veterans.”
“It was such a service of her heart,” said Liz Alessio, who also works with Napa Valley’s veteran population. “It’s really sad.”
She was “such a wonderful, bright caring person,” Rose said. “You never see her without a broad smile on her face. Losing her is devastating to everyone who knew her.”
Loeber graduated from the Boston College School of Social Work in 2008, earning her master’s degree in clinical social work.
University spokesman Jack Dunn said that, while there, Loeber distinguished herself as a gifted student who was passionate about helping those suffering from mental illness.
“The prayers of the entire BC community are with the Loeber family in the wake of this senseless tragedy,” Dunn said.
Loeber also taught yoga to veterans suffering from PTSD at YogaONE in Santa Rosa.
“They were amazing, amazing women with a heart for giving,” Army veteran and former Pathway Home client Steven Roy said Saturday. “They dedicated their lives as civilians to help out guys like me.”
“They gave their lives for their country as much as any guy who died on the battlefield,” Roy said.
As someone who suffers from PTSD, Roy said that Wong’s actions aren’t representative of all veterans with PTSD.
“We are hardwired to protect people from people like this, he is not one of us,” Roy said.
An Army spokesman said Wong served in the Army as an infantryman, with one tour in Afghanistan from 2011-2012. He received several awards, including the Army Commendation Medal for acts of heroism.
“The shooter was dealing with real demons in his life, which got the best of him,” said Salmon, chairwoman of the Board. He had been treated at The Pathway Home for nearly a year, Salmon said.
Yountville Mayor John Dunbar, who also serves on the Pathway Home Board of Directors, called Wong “one of our heroes who clearly had demons.”
Wong was discharged from The Pathway Home program about two weeks ago. People close to the program said that he may have been kicked-out after making a romantic advance at one of the female staff members killed Friday. Program officials have not confirmed this.
Cissy Shurr, who said she was one of Wong’s guardians when he was a child, said that Friday was a “tough day.”
Wong had always wanted to go into the Army — “he was a hero,” she said.
“They put him on the front line,” she said. “He saw horrible things,” but he was trying really hard to get help. “He didn’t come home to a lot of support system like some people do,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
“It’s just not how I know him to be,” she said of the respectable and soft-spoken man she knew.
Capt. Blower expects forensic examinations on all four individuals to be complete next week. The deputy who responded first to the scene was not injured.
Details about what exactly happened inside The Pathway Home have not yet been released. The California Highway Patrol, which has taken the lead on releasing information about the investigation, did not release any additional details on Saturday.
The Pathway Home, which has graduated more than 450 veterans coping with PTSD, is focusing on taking care of the seven veterans currently in the program and figuring out how to move forward in a way that honors victims, Salmon said Saturday.
Madison Hall, where The Pathway Home was located, is going to need some changes now, she said. Salmon said that the Board of Directors is looking for other housing options for the veterans in the program.
Although she was close to and loved all three women, Salmon said that the experience hasn’t soured her on The Pathway Home’s mission.
“We’re doing the best we can to really honor the program, these three remarkable women and,” Salmon said, “really make people understand how serious the problems are with our returning military veterans and how much need there is.”
YOUNTVILLE — On Saturday morning the Veterans Home campus was quiet, the mood somber.
At the main entrance, underneath a large location sign, a half dozen bunches of flowers had been placed, along with three candles.
On the grounds, only a few residents could be seen either walking between buildings or scooting along sidewalks and roadways in mechanized wheelchairs.
Home resident Paul Bentley, 68, has only lived at the Vets Home for eight months. On Friday morning at the time of the hostage taking, Bentley was volunteering at the hospital when someone told him about a “shooter.”
“I’m thinking ‘troubleshooter,’” said Bentley.
He’s never been in the Madison building — the headquarters for The Pathway Home, he said. He’d seen the Pathway Home residents on campus but “everyone pretty much keeps to themselves,” he said.
The idea that an active shooter could descend on the Vets Home and kill three Pathway Home staff members is “baffling,” said Bentley.
“This is my haven. My safe space,” he said. “This is God’s acreage to me.”
“I didn’t want to go to breakfast this morning,” he said. There was too much talk between residents about what had happened.
“If this happened once, through this program, can it happen again?”
“All I can do is pray for those poor people and their families,” Bentley said.
Resident John McDonald, 86, has lived at the Vets home for 14 years. He remained in a residential room during the shooting and lockdown, he said.
“We kept the lights out so you couldn’t see in the room,” he said.
McDonald said he was hoping the situation would end without anyone getting hurt,” and the man holding the staffers hostage would come to his senses, realizing, “What the hell am I doing?”
“He could have pleaded insanity and walked out” from the building without hurting anyone, said McDonald.
“It made me sick there was nothing we could do for him.”
The Pathway Home building features a central courtyard entrance with two wings extending outward on either side.
McDonald pointed to a second-story window on the north wing where he believes the shooting took place. That section of the building was lit up all night, as law enforcement and others examined the scene, he said.
Resident Barbara Walls, 87, said she was also shocked. “It’s hard to believe something like that happened” at the Vets Home. You read about such shootings “but it’s a story” — not something you actually experience, she said.
Yards and yards of yellow crime scene tape was wrapped around trees and railings surrounding the Pathway Home building.
In one second-story window at the back of the Madison building a dozen stuffed animals were seen stacked in front of the glass. A man wearing business work clothes was seen leaving the back of the building, accompanied by a sheriff’s deputy. Otherwise, the building appeared to be vacant.
People had left several bunches of flowers next to a wooden Pathway Home sign at the rear of the building. Tucked onto the sign was an Operation Iraqi Freedom coin and a small handwritten note that said “We’ve got the watch.”
A CHP officer working at the site said the shooting scene had been cleared early Saturday morning. Pathway Home employees and residents would be able to collect their belongings sometime on Saturday.
During an 11 a.m. news conference in a parking lot next to the Madison building, Yountville Mayor John Dunbar, who is also on the board of the Pathway Home, described the three shooting victims as dedicated to their work.
“They lived their lives to serve our veterans,” he said. “They brought a unique sense of humanity to their jobs.”
“It will be very difficult to fill their shoes,” he said.
Dunbar declined to give personal details of the women.
“This is a very sensitive time,” said Dunbar. “Many of us knew all of these people personally,” he said, referring to Executive Director Christine Loeber, Dr. Jen Golick, a therapist with the program, and Dr. Jennifer Gonzales, a psychologist with the Department of Veterans Affairs in San Francisco.
Dunbar said the last time he saw Loeber was at a Pathway Home board meeting a few weeks ago.
Loeber was really committed to the Pathway Home, said the mayor. “She moved from Petaluma to Napa to be closer to the program,” he said. “She’d sleep in her office more often than not to cover a shift.”
During the news conference, Dr. Vito Imbasciani, chief at the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet), spoke briefly.
“We’re working with law enforcement to understand everything that happened,” Imbasciani said. “We have teams from the EAP (Employee Assistance Program) already on campus,” he said. “Yes, some veterans are traumatized, but also employees.”
It’s too early to talk about the future of the Pathway Home program, said Dunbar, who left the news conference to attend a Pathway Home board meeting.
Mike DeSimoni, Sr. has something to say about the empty retail shops at his Riverfront complex in downtown Napa.
“It’s driving me crazy,” he said, of the papered-up windows in vacant storefronts.
“I can’t stand it,” said the president of Channel Properties, the developer of the Riverfront on south Main Street.
DeSimoni was referring to the six out of 16 empty shops at the riverside shopping area.
While the second story commercial space is leased up and the condos have all been sold at least once, some twice, a string of ground floor vacancies has troubled the center, and now DeSimoni.
Cake Plate boutique recently announced the closure of its retail store. Other Riverfront spaces that are now shuttered include those formerly occupied by The Corner restaurant, Frati Gelato, Marie Lyall Shoes, Wood & Rowan nail spa and The Pear restaurant.
That’s a 38 percent vacancy rate.
DeSimoni said that he’s heard that retail shopping has dropped off in Napa. “I don’t know if we are going through a phase or not,” he said.
“There is so much good going on at the building” that the vacancies on the street level “is sort of disturbing.”
Until recently DeSimoni had his hands full with other real estate projects, he said. But now, he’s ready to refocus his attention on the Riverfront.
The first step?
“We are going to Marin County and see if we can drag some people up there” as new tenants, he said confidently.
“We want a good start” for these new tenants, he said, even if he has to adjust the rent.
The Riverfront building itself is a big success, he said. “The building it makes all kinds of money.”
“But I’m a proud guy,” said DeSimoni. He wants better for downtown Napa.
Scott Lyall, owner of Scott Lyall Clothes for Men, a Riverfront tenant, said that “the last thing anybody wants is an empty space” at the center.
“But retail is very, very tough,” he added.
The October wildfires really took a toll on business, said Lyall. Sales were down while visitors stayed away.
“I lost probably $30,000 or more” between his Napa and Sonoma stores, he said. Sales picked up in November and December, but “you never get that money back.”
He thinks adding new higher-end tenants at the Riverfront is the way to go.
“The customer we get down here is a customer that wants quality. The tourists here are very cosmopolitan. They know good quality.”
At the same time, property owners need to be flexible on lease rates, Lyall said.
“In the heydays it’s great, but when times are tough, instead of losing a tenant … you’ve got to get creative and work with tenants.”
Matt Mills works for Riverfront tenant Bespoke Collection. The business, which faces the river, offers a selection of boutique wines, “one-of-a-kind objects d’art, and unique lifestyle experiences.”
One common comment Mills said he hears is that visitors don’t realize there are tenants on the river-facing part of the complex.
“Obviously, I’d like to see more activity down here,” but “we’ve had good success in our first year and a half” as a tenant. “This space has worked well for us.”
Danielle Mawlaoui is the owner of Danielle boutique, which faces Main Street.
She wishes landlord Channel Properties had worked harder to keep the former tenants from closing. “It makes me angry,” she said. While a renewed leasing effort is appreciated, “They should have done more,” and sooner, to help drive business to the Riverfront.
At the same time, Mawlaoui said she remains optimistic that once the new stores do get leased, it will bring more foot traffic to the Riverfront.
Michael Holmes of Ivy, Twig & Twine said his business “has been great from day one,” at the Riverfront.
“The management has been great to me.” In fact, he said, “I just re-signed my lease.”
On Thursday around noon, Lina Garcia and Astrid Figueroa of Tampa, Florida, walked through the Riverfront. The two were spending a day or two in Napa while visiting the San Francisco area.
They stopped at the Riverfront because it looked inviting from Soscol Avenue, but once they arrived, the two were confused.
“It looks like it’s closed,” said Figueroa, as she glanced up and down the river-facing section of the center.
“It’s very beautiful,” said Garcia, “but are we too early?” Are the shops not open yet? she asked, as she stood next to the shuttered Frati Gelato café.
Matt Connolly of Strong & Hayden is the leasing agent for the property.
“Obviously if they were doing amazing” business, those former Riverfront merchants might not have made the decision to close, he acknowledged.
Connolly said the vacancies are “a good opportunity for the project to look at re-tenanting with a new tenant mix. And also for new retailers or restaurants that want to come into the downtown market.”
The spaces are already finished, and the Pear restaurant is fully built-out. That is a big benefit to any future restaurant tenant. “It’s so expensive to build a new restaurant,” he noted.
Retail lease rates at the Riverfront range around $4 per square foot, plus “triple net” which means also paying taxes, maintenance and insurance costs, he said.
When asked if Riverfront retail was suffering because of too much competition from other shopping areas in downtown Napa, including First Street Napa, Connolly said no.
Riverfront benefits from being near the Welcome Center, Morimoto Napa and the Napa River Inn, he said.
The Riverfront area “doesn’t generate the same amount of foot traffic as Oxbow or First and Main, but it still offers a very convenient downtown Napa experience,” said Connolly.
“Projects go through transitions and tenants come and go,” he said.
The Riverfront ownership “has been a little more selective on trying to bring the next group in. But I think there is a lot of motivation to bring that right tenant mix.”
DeSimoni said he doesn’t think his rents are too high. He said he negotiates with his tenants. He’s also put millions into remodeling spaces to make them tenant-ready.
DeSimoni said that each of the tenants that have left the Riverfront had their own reasons. The owner of The Pear restaurant had other eateries located outside of Napa County, he said. The commute was too much for him, said the developer. Other tenants decided it was time for a change.
Owners of Cake Plate, The Corner and Wood & Rowan could not be immediately reached to comment on this story.
“Everything is going spectacular except the retail, that tells me that either we picked the wrong ones to go in there or that retail is sick in Napa,” said DeSimoni.
DeSimoni said that a high-end cosmetic retailer, shoe store and jewelry store would be a good fit.
“We’re just going to work hard at it.”