The Guardian | Published: Saturday, March 10, 2018
The three hostages were employees of the state-run Veterans’ Home of California-Yountville
Veterans’ home of California in Yountville. Photograph: Ben Margot/AP
Three women and a gunman who held them hostage at a California veterans’ home were found dead on Friday evening local time, bringing a tragic end to an all-day siege at the sprawling facility for ageing and disabled former members of the US military, police said.
A state senator earlier told reporters that the gunman was a member of the Pathway Home, a program for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and that the hostages were believed to be employees of the facility.
The gunman had slipped into an employee going-away party at the largest veterans’ home in the United States and took three people hostage on Friday morning in a shootout and standoff that kept the sprawling California grounds locked down for hours, authorities and family members said.
Nearly eight hours after the standoff began at about 10.30am, authorities said they still didn’t know what was going on inside the room where the gunman and the hostages were.
Police evacuated the property and closed off nearby roads. An armoured police vehicle, ambulances and several firetrucks were at the facility, which has about 1,000 residents.
Napa county sheriff John Robertson told reporters Friday that “there was an exchange of gunfire by both our deputy and the suspect” and that “many bullets” were fired, but that police weren’t injured.
California highway patrol Sgt Robert Nacke told reporters that evening that negotiators had not been able to reach the gunman by phone after trying for several hours. Nacke said the situation remained “dynamic and active” during the brief news conference and that police tactical teams were deciding how to proceed.
By 6pm, they had confirmed the fatalities, after entering the room where the hostages had been held.
Authorities said they knew who the gunman was but didn’t reveal his identity or 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.
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. 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.
Except for helicopters buzzing overhead, the home was eerily quiet, Sloan said, adding that he could see police with “long-barrel assault-type weapons” crouching around the building, some taking cover behind trees.
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, but that her heart was bleeding for those who were held hostage.
Sheriff Robertson said a group of about 80 students who were on the home’s grounds were safely evacuated after being locked down. The teenagers from Justin-Siena High School were at a theatre rehearsing a play.
“They were a distance away from the shooting situation,” he added.
California highway patrol assistant, Chief Chris Childs, said all three hostages were found dead inside the veterans’ home.
He added that a bomb-sniffing dog had been alerted to the suspect’s car but no bombs were found in the vehicle. He noted that there is “no threat to public safety.”