'Largest Veterans Home' in U.S. Scene of Latest Gun Violence Tragedy

‘Largest Veterans Home’ in U.S. Scene of Latest Gun Violence Tragedy

As yet another episode of gun violence played out in America, those who once stood as Americas warriors and protectors, and those who work to help them through their injuries and old age, found themselves fearing for their lives on the wrong end of a gun once again after a gunman took hostages at a veterans home in Northern California, Friday. Unfortunately, the situation ended tragically.

The gunman was a military veteran who had until recently been treated at the facility for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, which has in recent years finally been acknowledged as a major challenge for service members after being in harm’s way. He had been asked to leave several days before.

This occurred in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on Valentine’s Day in Parkland, Florida. That shooting seems to have been a long overdue watershed moment, in large part due to the fierce and fearless activism of the teenage survivors of that massacre.

In the debate which has raged since that massacre, the National Rifle Association and its proponents have argued that mental illness is the whole problem, and no controls on guns are needed. Rather, getting those with mental illness access to treatment is the primary solution, they argue, with other solutions they suggest including more guns instead of fewer, and militarizing schools to harden them. Some of which may be necessary, such as bullet proofing windows, without controversy. But over President Trump’s NRA backed idea of arming teachers there is significant controversy, with many teachers, parents, students, and administrators in schools around the nation being unnerved by the notion.

It is worth noting, given the inevitable impact of this on the gun control debate, that this gunman had received mental health treatment. And indeed made victims of those who had tried to help him. Which raises the question, should America start arming doctors and nurses as well as teachers? How about movie theater projectionists, and popcorn sellers? Sadly, those are not sarcastic questions in today’s debate. But clearly, simply getting the man mental health care wasn’t enough.

The gunman, identified to SFgate by sources familiar with the situation as Albert Wong, was found dead by Sheriff’s deputies approximately 7 hours after the standoff began, with three victims. According to local news reports the victims included Christine Loeber, who was the PTSD program’s executive director, Dr. Jennifer Gonzales, a Department of Veterans Affairs psychologist, and Dr. Jen Golick, a therapist. The victims have been described by survivors as “brave women

California Department of Veterans Affairs spokesperson June Iljana said active-shooter reports came in to the Veterans Home of California-Yountville around 10:30 a.m. Friday, local time.

Those reports were confirmed by California Highway Patrol spokesperson, Officer John Fransen. Fransen stated shots were fired but declined to state how many hostages remain in harm’s way. ABC7 Bay Area reports three, however. CalVet states its emergency response protocol is active. According to KRON4, as many as 30 shots have been fired so far. However, there were no reported injuries at the time.

CHP then teamed up with the Napa County Sheriff’s Office to clear the area and secure a perimeter. The Sheriff’s Office asked locals to avoid the area. According to local ABC affiliate 23ABC, there was “a major police presence at the Veterans Home of California.”

Over 1,000 residents call the 133-year-old veterans building home. Founded in 1884, it is currently the largest veterans’ living community in the country. Wayne Freedman of ABC7 tweeted the facility “Has 1000 aged or disabled vets (both men and women): World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm, and Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom now live at the home.” NBC Bay Area reports, “The standoof is occurring in Building G.”

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Assistant Chief of the California Highway Patrol Chris Childs credited a Napa County Sheriff’s Deputy who exchanged fire with the gunman with stopping him from “finding other victims”. Witnesses said as many as twenty or more shots were fired.

The gunman also took two other hostages, but released them. He then barricaded himself and inside a room, where he held Loeber, Golick, and Gonzales hostage. After 6 hours of fruitlessly trying to reach Wong on his cell phone, police found the bodies of the gunman and his victims just before 6 p.m. local time.

Loeber, the center Director, 48, had recently been featured in a film that highlighted the efforts of the Pathway treatment center to help those wounded warriors suffering from PTSD.  In an interview she gave previously gave SFgate about the film, Loeber said,

“When these people are in combat, their systems are programmed to keep them alive under incredibly stressful situations. Nobody helps them understand that when they get back they have to reprogram their nervous system to operate at a different caliber so they can be successful civilians.”

President Trump paused from his typical petty and self aggrandizing tweeting to briefly take a more fitting tone from a Commander in Chief. “We are deeply saddened by the tragic situation in Yountville and mourn the loss of three incredible women who cared for our Veterans,” he tweeted.

 

Featured image courtesy of Veterans Home of California-Yountville’s Facebook page. 

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Dylan Hock is a writer, educator, and activist. He serves as a volunteer board member of The James Jackson Museum of African American History.