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Yountville Vets Home grapples with aftermath of 3 staff killings

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A woman, who declined to give her name, cries after placing flowers at a sign at the Veterans Home of California, the morning after a hostage situation in Yountville, Calif., on Saturday, March 10, 2018. A daylong siege at The Pathway Home ended Friday evening with the discovery of four bodies, including the gunman, identified as Albert Wong, a former Army rifleman who served a year in Afghanistan in 2011-2012. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)

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.

Vets Home Madison Hall

Yellow police tape still surrounded Madison Hall on the grounds of the Veterans Home on Saturday morning. Madison Hall houses The Pathway Home program where a man killed three staff members on Friday. 

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.”

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Iraqi Freedom medal

An Operation Iraqi Freedom medal was left at an impromptu memorial outside The Pathway Home building at the Veterans Home of California. The accompanying message says: "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.

Vets Home John Dunbar

Yountville Mayor John Dunbar, right, speaks to the news media Saturday morning at the Veterans Home of California where three employees of The Pathway Home were killed by a former client on Friday. To Dunbar's left is Dr. Vito Imbasciani, secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs. 

“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.


Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.