The three women who dedicated their lives to treating military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress were described as “brave woman” after they were gunned down by an ex-patient of the treatment program they worked in.
Police said a gunman – later identified as Albert Wong, 36, of Sacramento – managed around 10:30 a.m. Friday to discreetly enter a going-away party for an employee of Pathway Home, a privately run treatment program housed at Veterans Home of California-Yountville.
Wong held the three women hostages and sparked a nearly eight-hour standoff with police.
At around 6 p.m., authorities discovered the bodies of the three women – identified as Christine Loeber, 48, executive director of the program; Jennifer Golick, 42, a clinical director; and Jennifer Gonzales, 29, a clinical psychologist.
Authorities said Wong had also killed himself.
“These brave women were accomplished professionals who dedicated their careers to serving our nation’s veterans, working closely with those in the greatest need of attention after deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the Pathway Home statement said. “All of us at the Pathway Home are devastated by today’s events. We stand with the families, friends, and colleagues who share in this terrible loss.”
Golick's father-in-law said she had recently ordered Wong removed from the program.
Golick called her husband, Mark, around 10:30 a.m. to say that she had been taken hostage by the former soldier, Bob Golick said.
Mark didn't hear from her again, Golick said.
Family friend Vasiti Ritova told The Associated Press that Gonzales, the 29-year-old victim, got married a year ago and was set to go to Washington DC this weekend to celebrate her anniversary. Gonzales was also reportedly seven months pregnant.
Ritova, whose niece takes care of Gonzales' grandmother, also said the victim made bi-weekly trips to visit her relative and would sing to her and give her baths. She said the loss was "devastating."
Gonzales was described as "brilliant" by Marjorie Morrison, the founder of a nonprofit organization known as PsychArmor, whom Gonzales parterned with to create the VA Campus Toolkit. Morrison said Gonzalez did amazing work with veterans with PTSD and also focused on helping college campuses successfully reintegrate veterans when they returned to school.
Loeber, the 48-year-old victim, was "very dedicated to the veterans," Sandra Woodford, a veteran who lives at the facility and works at the crafts center across the street from Pathway, told The Associated Press. She said Loeber would visit the center occasionally to ensure that younger veterans from Pathway were well received if they came to work on projects.
"She was delightful, intelligent, outgoing, charming," Woodford said.
Loeber was supposed to have a girls' weekend with her close friend, Maura Turner, before she was held hostage at the veterans home, Turner's husband, Tom, told the outlet.
"We heard the guy was a former patient and so I thought that was a positive," he told The Associated Press. "I figured he had to like her."
Veterans Home of California-Yountville is the largest veterans’ home in the nation, according to the state Department of Veterans Affairs.
On Saturday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted his condolences to the three women killed.
"We are deeply saddened by the tragic situation in Yountville and mourn the loss of three incredible women who cared for our Veterans," Trump wrote.
Authorities said Wong was a former participant in the Pathway Home program, but investigators had yet to determine a motive for the killings.
"It's far too early to say if they were chosen at random," California Highway Patrol Assistant Chief Chris Childs said of the slain hostages, during a news conference Friday evening.
Wong had been an Army infantryman who served a year in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012. He held a number of service awards, including one for expert marksmanship with a rifle.
News of Friday's tragedy drew reactions of sadness and shock.
"We are deeply saddened and affected by the tragic outcome of the hostage situation at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville and extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones involved," wrote David Shulkin, U.S. secretary of Veterans Affairs, in a Twitter message. "We ask for patience as we continue to monitor emerging details."
California Gov. Jerry Brown also offered condolences.
"(T)he horrible violence at the Yountville Veterans Home ... tragically took the lives of three people dedicated to serving our veterans. Our hearts go out to their families and loved ones and the entire community of Yountville," Brown wrote.
A Napa County sheriff’s deputy responded to an emergency call around 10 a.m. and exchanged gunfire with the suspect. Shortly after, the women were taken hostage.
“We believe and credit him with saving the lives of others in the area by eliminating the ability for the suspect to go out and find further victims,” Childs said. The officer was not injured.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Larry Kamer said his wife, Devereaux Smith, a fundraiser for Pathway Home, told him by phone that the gunman had slipped quietly into the building before taking some people hostage, while letting others leave.
Authorities were unable to make contact with the gunman and hostages throughout the day, and after nearly eight hours, law enforcement entered a room where they believed the hostages were being held. There they found three women and the suspected gunman -- all dead, Childs said.
It was not immediately clear what type of gun was used in the shootings.
Authorities found a cellphone in a rental car belonging to the suspect that was parked near the facility, authorities said.
Gov. Brown ordered flags at the state Capitol in Sacramento to be flown at half-staff following the shooting, KTVU reported.
Fox News’ Bradford Betz, Lucia I. Suarez Sang, Elizabeth Zwirz and the Associated Press contributed to this report.