Saturday 20 October 2018

Veteran in California attack had trouble after return from war

Albert Wong, 36, was identified as the man who went to The Pathway House therapy centre.

A woman, who declined to give her name, cries after placing flowers at a sign at the Veterans Home of California, the morning after a hostage situation in Yountville, California (Josh Edelson/AP)
A woman, who declined to give her name, cries after placing flowers at a sign at the Veterans Home of California, the morning after a hostage situation in Yountville, California (Josh Edelson/AP)

By Ellen Knickmeyer and Amy Forliti, Associated Press

The man who killed three women after a day-long siege at a Northern California veterans home had trouble adjusting to regular life after he returned from the Afghanistan war.

As family and friends of the victims tried to make sense of the tragedy, authorities offered little information on Saturday about why Albert Wong, 36, attacked The Pathway Home and whether he targeted his victims.

Those who knew the women said they had dedicated their lives to helping those suffering like Wong, and they would’ve been in a good position to assist him had Friday’s hostage situation ended differently.

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Public Safety officers put up caution tape around building following the hostage situation (Josh Edelson/AP)

“We lost three beautiful people yesterday,” Yountville Mayor John Dubar said. “We also lost one of our heroes who clearly had demons that resulted in the terrible tragedy that we all experienced here.”

Authorities said Wong, a former Army rifleman who served a year in Afghanistan in 2011-2012 and returned highly decorated, went to the campus about 50 miles (85 kilometres) north of San Francisco on Friday morning, slipping into a leaving party for some employees of The Pathway Home. He let some people leave, but kept the three.

Police said a Napa Valley sheriff’s deputy exchanged gunshots with Wong around 10.30 am but after that nothing was heard from him.

I can't imagine what happened. It doesn't make any sense to me

Witness Sandra Woodford said she saw police with guns trained outside, but said the only shots she heard were inside Pathway early on Friday. “This rapid live-fire of rounds going on, at least 12,” she said.

Hours later, authorities found four bodies, including Wong.

His victims were identified as The Pathway Home executive director Christine Loeber, 48, clinical director Jennifer Golick, 42, and Jennifer Gonzales Shushereba, 32, a clinical 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.

Wong always wanted to join the Army and serve his country and was “soft-spoken and calm,” said Cissy Sherr, who was Wong’s legal guardian when he was a child.

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Fernando Juarez, 36, of Napa embraces his 22-year-old sister Vanessa Flores at the Veterans Home of California (Ben Margot/AP)

Ms Sherr and her husband became Wong’s guardians after his father died and his mother developed health problems, she said. He moved back in with them for a little while in 2013 after he returned from his deployment in Afghanistan and kept in touch online.

“He always had a great smile on his face,” she said. “He didn’t have a traditional upbringing but still he just became a fine young man. I can’t imagine what happened. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Wong wanted to go back to school to study computers and business and thought the Pathway House program would help him readjust after the Army, she said.

The programme is housed at the Veterans Home of California-Yountville in the Napa Valley wine country region.

Ms Golick’s father-in-law, Mike Golick, said in an interview she had recently expelled Wong from the program. After Wong entered the building, Ms Golick called her husband to say she had been taken hostage by the former soldier, her father-in-law said.

He didn’t hear from his wife again.

Marjorie Morrison, the founder of a nonprofit organization known as PsychArmor, recalled Gonzales Shushereba as a “brilliant” talent who did amazing work with veterans with PTSD, and also focused on helping college campuses successfully reintegrate veterans when they return to school.

Gonzales Shushereba, a mother-to-be, had planned to travel to Washington, DC, this weekend to celebrate her wedding anniversary, family friend Vasiti Ritova said.

“Jennifer and her colleagues died doing the work they were so passionate about — helping those in critical need,” her husband, T.J. Shushereba, said in a statement.

Press Association

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