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Suspected gunman, 3 women found dead after hostages taken at California veterans home

A suspected gunman and three women were found dead after hostages were taken at a California veterans home, police said.

A suspected gunman and three women he was believed to have taken hostage at a California veterans home were found dead Friday, nearly eight hours after reports of shots fired at the facility, officials said.

The grim end to the situation at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville, a 600-acre facility north of Napa wine country, was announced at around 7:45 p.m. local time (10:45 p.m. ET).

"This is a tragic piece of news, one that we were really hoping we wouldn’t have to come before the public to give," Chris Childs, assistant chief of the California Highway Patrol Golden Gate Division, said at a news conference.

Childs said that law enforcement officers entered the room where the gunman was thought to be holding the hostages at around 6 p.m. and discovered one man and three women dead. Law enforcement had said they believed the suspect was armed with a rifle and was holding the hostages inside a room on the grounds.

The suspect was identified by Napa County Sheriff-Coroner's Office as Albert Wong, 36, from Sacramento. The county said in a statement that he was "formerly from the Pathway Home" at the veterans home. The Pathway Home is a privately run program that treats veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Wong served as an infantryman in the Army Reserve from October 1998 to December 2002, and later in the regular Army from May 2010 to August 2013. He earned the rank of specialist in 2011 and served in Afghanistan from April 2011 to March 2012.

The Pathway Home and Yountville Mayor John Dunbar declined to provide details that led to Wong's departure from the Pathway Home.

The Pathway Home identified the three victims as Christine Loeber, the executive director; Dr. Jen Golick, a therapist; and Dr. Jennifer Gonzales, a psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System.

"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 said in a statement.

"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," The Pathway Home said.

Image: Vanessa Flores, Fernando Juarez
Fernando Juarez, 36, of Napa, from center, embraces his 22-year-old sister Vanessa Flores, from right, at the Veterans Home of California on March 9, 2018 in Yountville, Calif.Ben Margot / AP

Authorities received a call around 10:20 a.m. local time of shots fired inside the facility. Sheriff's deputies rushed to the scene and exchanged gunfire with the suspect, Childs said earlier Friday.

Highway Patrol Sgt. Robert Nacke said negotiators were unable to make contact with the gunman throughout the day. He said Friday afternoon that authorities had not had any confirmed communication with the gunman or hostages since approximately 10:30 a.m. local time.

Larry Kramer told the Associated Press that his wife, Devereaux Smith, was at a party at the facility and told him over the phone that the gunman had quietly slipped into the room.

The Veterans Home of California is one of the largest veterans homes in the country.

Childs credited the initial responding Napa County sheriff’s deputy who exchanged gunfire with the suspect with saving the lives of others.

"We believe and we 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.

Childs said it was too early to say why the gunman took the three people hostage or whether they were chosen at random. He said it was unclear when they died and that the incident was still under investigation.

"Those killed were three wonderful and dedicated women who got up every morning to better the lives of veterans," U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, who represents the area, said in a statement. "Tonight all our hearts are heavy."

Police found the rental car the suspect is believed to have used parked near the building. A bomb-sniffing dog initially alerted on the vehicle but no bombs or explosives were found, Childs said.

The facility opened in 1884 and is home to about 1,000 residents, according to CalVet — including veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, and the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

"The hearts of the California highway patrol family go out those families that are grieving tonight, and I think I can speak on behalf of all law enforcement tonight: We express our deepest and most sincere condolences to the families," Childs said.

California Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement that "Anne and I are deeply saddened by the horrible violence at the Yountville Veterans Home, which 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 said flags at the capitol will be flown at half-staff in recognition of the victims and their families.

Image: Negotiation team
A sheriff's hostage negotiation team passes a California highway patrol checkpoint at the Veterans Home of California on March 9, 2018 in Yountville, Calif.Ben Margot / AP

California Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Vito Imbasciani said in a statement that "We are devastated by today's tragedy at our Home in Yountville," expressed support for the victims' families and thanked law enforcement for their response.

"Our hearts are heavy for the entire Yountville Veterans Home community and the families and friends who are grieving for those who died," Imbasciani said.