There’s no cell service in the St. Helena winery where T.J. Shushereba works, so he missed the alert that went to phones throughout Napa County.
A gunman had barged into a farewell party for an employee Friday at the Pathway Home in Yountville, a treatment center for troubled veterans of the post-9/11 wars. The cake was still uncut on the table. The man, who had been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder at the center, singled out three staffers and took them hostage.
Shushereba’s boss found him in the cellar at Anomaly Vineyards and said he should call his wife.
Dr. Jennifer Gonzales’ phone rang five times and went to voice mail. She worked as a clinical psychologist with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, helping men with PTSD return to school. Part of her time was spent at the Pathway Home.
“I’m on my way,” Shushereba said as he drove toward Yountville. “I’ll see you soon. I love you.”
She never heard the message. Gonzales, Pathway executive director Christine Loeber and Jennifer Golick, the center’s clinical director, were already dead. So was the gunman, Albert Wong.
That night, officers would go to Yountville’s town hall. At a press conference, they would confirm what he couldn’t believe. His mind would go to the dark place.
“We talk about the three individuals that lost their lives,” Shushereba said Tuesday. “There were four. I don’t think that part of this whole scenario has really set in for me. We were going to have a baby. I am trying not to go down that path yet.”
Gonzales, 32, was six months pregnant. Shushereba wanted to know the gender; she didn’t. So they decided it would be a surprise. They called her bump June Baby.
Shushereba, 35, doesn’t know why Wong picked out his wife and the two staffers. She didn’t often talk about her work, because that could violate a patient’s privacy.
Golick’s father-in-law told the Associated Press that she had expelled Wong from the Pathway Home, but he didn’t give a reason. Pathway’s administrators never reported any actions or threats by Wong to local law enforcement, the Napa County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday.
Both the Pathway Home and the California Highway Patrol, which is leading the investigation, have declined to discuss the circumstances surrounding Wong’s expulsion.
So Shushereba is left to wonder why his wife died, and what their life might have been like with the child she was carrying.
Some of their friends called it Smoky because Gonzales took the pregnancy test the night the North Bay wildfires ignited. On Friday morning, Gonzales texted a photo of her bulging belly to Shushereba and his mother. She was starting to feel the baby kicking.
Two days before Gonzales died, she and Shushereba booked doctor’s appointments and birthing classes through the summer. With Gonzales — whom everyone called Jenn — he knew they could raise a good kid. She always wanted to cuddle her friends’ children. She would be a good mother.
If the baby was a boy, they would call him Jackson Blaise. If it a was a girl, they would call her Cecilia Rose. Shushereba wanted to nickname her Cece, but Gonzales said it was too froufrou. Their girl would be strong, just like her.
Somehow, Shushereba knew he was always supposed to meet Gonzales. But he didn’t expect it to happen on Match.com. Her first email — asking what he would cook for a celebrity guest — intrigued him. They met in Santa Rosa in January 2014 for drinks, which led to dinner, dessert, a walk and coffee. After five hours, he was smitten.
They were a team. She wanted to visit all 50 states before she turned 30, so in 2015, she and Shushereba took a road trip through the South. That summer, they went to Alaska. It was her last state. In a pizza restaurant, she listed each state’s name and whom she had visited it with on a napkin.
She held the paper in front of her face, brown eyes peeking over the top. Shushereba took a picture. He still has it saved on his phone. He has another folder, too, called “Jenn sleeps in cars.” She got motion sick easily and could never stay awake on long drives.
Gonzales was smart and driven. She attended Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and earned her doctoral degree from Palo Alto University.
She grew up with three brothers in Mountain View. She had a big family and a big group of friends. Shushereba was an only child; he didn’t know what to make of it at first. The number of weddings he was attending suddenly skyrocketed. But he blended right in.
Last year, at their own wedding in Sacramento, they hired a 1980s band. Everyone drank Manhattans — Gonzales’ favorite — and danced for hours. She wore red high heels for the ceremony and red Converse sneakers for the reception. Their one-year wedding anniversary is March 18. Shushereba was going to surprise Gonzales with an overnight trip to San Francisco.
Sometimes when she came home from work, she seemed drained. She worked with men struggling to re-acclimate to society after witnessing the atrocities of war. Wong, who was trying to earn a college degree, was one of them. Before graduate school, she had counseled women who struggled with eating disorders.
“She liked the vets in particular,” said her father, Mike Gonzales. “They’re grizzled and gruff. She felt like they wanted to be helped. Her work was like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill and coming back down again. She wanted to be in the weeds with them. She had great empathy and compassion for these men.”
Now, the anniversary hotel reservation will need to be canceled. The OB-GYN appointments erased. It still doesn’t feel real to Shushereba. He could find out whether the baby would have been a girl or a boy, but he doesn’t know whether he wants to.
“My day-to-day was a hell of a lot better with her by my side,” he said. “She would learn from me, and I would learn from her. Through everything, from the first day we met through the last day we talked, she was just this incredible woman.”
On Saturday, Shushereba folded their laundry for the last time. It had been sitting in the dryer for days. Gonzales wasn’t very neat. But it was one of the things he loved about her. He folded her sleep shirt, an oversized T-shirt with a cartoon Simpsons character. He brushed his teeth with one of the matching toothbrushes she had bought for them.
He remembered her laugh, how she liked red wine and red lipstick, her obsession with sandwiches and how she wanted to open a shop with one for each state. He remembered how they called their brown leather couch by the name Walter, and how she was always trying to help other people. He remembered their last day together.
That Friday morning — like every Friday morning — Gonzales left the house first. Shushereba was cutting up a grapefruit in the kitchen. He never said goodbye to his wife or June Baby; it felt too final.
“See you later,” he said.
“No, I will see you later,” she replied, smiling.
Jenn walked out the door and was gone.