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3 hostages, gunman dead at Napa Valley veterans home in Yountville

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A lone gunman and three female staff members of a Napa County veterans support program are dead after the gunman, a military veteran, stormed a building Friday at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville in a mid-morning siege, exchanging gunfire with law enforcement before holing up in a room in the building, authorities said.

Nothing was heard from the gunman or his three hostages since about 10:30 a.m. Friday while scores of law enforcement officers, SWAT teams and hostage negotiators surrounded the building, trying for hours to reach the suspect by cellphone but making no contact, law enforcement officials said.

The gunman, who hasn’t been named, had been recently kicked out of The Pathway Home, an organization that provides veterans with support in transitioning back to the civilian world after deployment, according to State Sen. Bill Dodd, whose district includes the sprawling 600-acre campus. His hostages included the program’s executive director Christine Loeber, according to an organization spokesman.

A military veteran kicked out of a program to help personnel with combat-related trauma armed himself with a high-powered rifle and returned to the organization’s site at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville Friday morning, interrupting a staff party and taking hostages in a standoff that continued more than five hours later, authorities said.

The gunman strode into a room during a going-away party for a colleague with The Pathway Home, an organization that provides veterans with support in transitioning back to the civilian world after deployment. Program volunteer Larry Kamer, who Friday was acting as a spokesman for the group, said his wife, Devereaux Smith, the Pathway Home’s director of development and communications, was in the room for the party when the gunman walked in.

“It was clear that he was there to do some harm,” Kamer said.

Scanner traffic indicated up to 30 shots had been fired and CHP officials said the suspect had exchanged gunfire with responding deputies early in the incident, first reported after 10 a.m. Law enforcement officers were swarming around Building G, also called Madison Hall in the middle of the campus, according to emergency scanner traffic.

State Sen. Bill Dodd, whose district includes the sprawling state-run Napa Valley campus for military veterans, confirmed Friday afternoon that one of the hostages is the director of the Pathway Home program for veterans, Christine Loeber, as well as two other staff members, all trained mental health professionals.

Dodd said the hostage situation is further proof “of the of the support that’s needed for our veterans and metal health issues.”

“The Pathway Home is an incredibly effective organization that has done so much for these veterans,” Dodd said.

Authorities have identified but not yet publicly named the gunman and it remained unclear as of 4 p.m. whether law enforcement had made any contact since a deputy or deputies exchanged gunfire with him shortly after the first 911 call about 10:20 a.m.

Smith, the Pathway communications and development executive, and three of her colleagues were able to get out of the room and find refuge in an adjacent building, where she told Kamer about 40 people are holed up with law enforcement standing guard. Smith said she heard gunshots, but she didn’t know how many, Kamer said.

“I think she still feels that she’s awfully close to an active situation, so I think all of us are going to feel a lot better when she and everybody else is out of there and back home,” Kamer said.

Chris Childs, assistant chief of the CHP’s Golden Gate division, said the gunman entered a campus building about 10:20 a.m. with what appeared to be a high-powered rifle. Childs declined to release his name Friday afternoon.

The suspect exchanged gunfire with the first deputies on scene, and took a group of hostages, eventually letting all but three people leave, Childs said.

SWAT teams from the FBI and Sonoma County Sheriff’s office joined Napa County law enforcement surrounding an area of the campus, which houses about 850 residents on the 615-acre property. California Department of Veteran Affairs spokeswoman June Iljana said approximately 300 employees work at the state-run home, the largest of its kind in the nation.

“He’s in one of the rooms within the building structure,” Childs said.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, had just gotten off a plane from Washington D.C., en route to Sacramento for a town hall on gun violence prevention, when he heard about the shooting in Napa and rerouted to the veterans campus, about 20 miles south of his home.

“We need to do everything we can to put a curb on gun violence,” said Thompson, a Vietnam war veteran. “We have to make sure that my colleagues in Washington, who have to date refused to do anything, get off the dime.”

Thompson called the event “very, very sad,” particularly in light of the fact that it’s taking place at a faculty whose mission it is to help troubled people.

“There are three very dedicated individuals in a room with him who get up every morning to help veterans,” he said.

The sprawling complex includes the oldest veterans home in the state and the largest in the country. Pathway Home, which leases a residential facility on the grounds, serves veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq who suffer such problems as post-traumatic stress disorder, mild-traumatic brain injury, depression, and substance abuse issues. It has helped 450 veterans over the last decade, according to its website.

Thompson called it a much-needed program that provides all manner of care and services to veterans.

“It’s just absolutely troubling and upsetting that something like this would happen here,” he said.

Worried family members of residents and staff were gathering outside the entrance on Highway 29 near Yountville Cross Road, which was cordoned off by law enforcement. One law enforcement officer, comforting people, said they have no confirmed reports of injuries.

“We haven’t heard anything about anyone being hurt,” CHP Officer Custodio Lopez said in Spanish to concerned relatives of people on campus.

Fernando Juarez, 36, of Napa said his 22-year-old sister Vanessa Flores is a caregiver at the facility and was exchanging text messages with family while sheltering in place with a client.

Flores told family she could hear people yelling “Get down! Get down!” She asked her brother to ensure her 3-year-old son is taken care of if she doesn’t make it out alive, he said.

“I’m trying to be calm,” Juarez said.

Also waiting at the entrance was Kay Klykun of Napa, who said she rushed to the campus after hearing about the shooting in news reports. Her 91-year-old father lives in the assisted living medical unit in Eisenhower Hall, which she’s hoping is far from the shooter’s location. Her father has lived at the Veterans Home for 10 years.

“I just want him to see a friendly face when all of this is over,” Klykun said.

Vito Imbasciani, secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs, said in a statement that he was aware gunfire had been reported at the Yountville facility, and staff there had activated an emergency response protocol. He referred questions to law enforcement.

Napa County law enforcement were working to communicate with people at the facility to ensure residents and staff were sheltering in place and staying low to the ground, according to emergency dispatch reports. Regional law enforcement were responding to the scene, including air support from the CHP and the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

Napa County Sheriff’s Officials issued a public warning about 10:45 a.m. urging people to avoid the area near the campus on Highway 29 and Yountville Cross Road.

Heavily armed law enforcement officers surrounded the sprawling campus, which traces its operations back about 135 years. It’s the largest veterans home in the country, according to a state website.

The Napa Valley Register reported that the gunman carried an automatic weapon and was dressed in black, wearing body armor.