Police: Gunman, 3 hostages dead at Calif. veterans home
Yountville, Calif. — The California Highway Patrol confirmed a gunman and three women were found dead hours after the gunman took them hostage inside a veterans home in California.
Chief Chris Childs siad officers entered the room where the hostages were being around 6 p.m. Friday.
He said they were all found dead inside a room in the veterans home.
Childs said a bomb-sniffing dog had alerted on the suspect’s car but no bombs were found in the vehicle. He said there is “no threat to public safety.”
A gunman had slipped into an employee going-away party at the largest veterans home in the United States and took three people hostage Friday in a standoff that kept the sprawling California grounds locked down for hours, authorities and family members said.
Authorities said they knew who the gunman was but didn’t reveal his identity or know the motive for the attack at the state-run Veterans Home of California-Yountville, in one of Napa Valley’s most upscale towns in the heart of wine country.
A sheriff’s deputy responding to an emergency call shortly after 10 a.m. got into a shootout with the gunman, but the officer was not injured.
Larry Kamer said that his wife, Devereaux Smith, was at a morning staff party in the facility’s dining hall and told him by phone that the gunman had entered the room quietly, letting some people leave while taking others hostage.
Smith, a fundraiser for the nonprofit Pathway Home, was not allowed to leave, he said. The Pathway Home, a privately run program on the grounds of the veterans home, treats veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The three hostages were Pathway House employees, California Highway Patrol Assistant Chief Chris Childs said. The gunman, who had a rifle, was confined to one room and authorities were trying to reach him on his cellphone and facility landlines as hostage negotiators stood by, he said.
Police evacuated the property and closed off nearby roads. An armored police vehicle, ambulances and several fire trucks were at the facility, which houses about 1,000 residents.
Army veteran and resident Bob Sloan, 73, was working at the home’s TV station when a co-worker came in and said he had heard four gunshots coming from the Pathway House. Sloan sent alerts for residents to stay put.
“People are starting to get concerned because it’s been going on for so long,” he told AP by phone from inside the lockdown.
Jan Thornton of Vallejo, California, was among hundreds of relatives worried about how their loved ones were coping with the lockdown. Thornton said her 96-year-old father, a World War II fighter pilot, was inside a hospital wing and that she had reached one of his friends who said he was safe.
Still, she worried about the stress of the lockdown, considering her father’s age and that he has PTSD and some dementia. Thornton said her “heart just bleeds for the people that are being held hostage.”
A group of about 80 students who were on the home’s grounds were safely evacuated after being locked down, the sheriff said. The teens from Justin-Siena High School were at a theater rehearsing a play.
“They were a distance away from the shooting situation,” Robertson said.
Some of the children were driven away on school buses and others in cars. Sasha Craig spotted a car carrying her 15- and 17-year-old children and ran toward it blowing kisses.
“There are my kids,” she said. Like many parents, she was texting with her children inside and said the teenagers were telling their parents to “chill.”
The state Veterans Affairs department says the home that opened in 1984 is the nation’s largest veterans home, with about 1,000 elderly and disabled residents.
Yvette Bennett, a wound-care supply worker who supplies the veterans center, was turned back when she tried to deliver what she called urgently needed medical supplies for two patients inside.
Of all the medical institutions she has worked with, “this is the most placid, calm, serene place,” she said. Earlier this week, when she last visited, she asked a doctor, “What’s your magic here?”
“And then 48 hours later this happens,” Bennett said.
Yountville is a small town that’s home to wineries such as Domaine Chandon, which is less than a half-mile from the veterans facility, and Thomas Keller’s famed restaurant The French Laundry, which is about a mile away.
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