The former Army soldier who killed three hostages Friday at a Napa Valley veterans care facility he once attended was described as a “hero” in the service but who struggled once he returned home from Afghanistan.
The Napa County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office identified the gunman as 36-year-old Albert Wong of Sacramento, who formerly was treated at the Pathway Home, a residential unit within the Yountville Veterans Home. He was found dead next to the bodies of three employees Friday afternoon, all with gunshot wounds.
Wong was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 and was awarded the Expert Marksmanship Badge. Yountville Mayor John Dunbar described Wong as “one of our heroes who clearly had demons.”
Cissy Sherr, who with her husband became Wong’s legal guardian after his father died when he was a child, said the soldier was deeply affected by the violence he saw.
“I think he realized that it started to catch up with him,” she told the Associated Press. “A couple of years ago, he told us if a door opens unexpectedly, I ask, ‘What is that?’”
She said of his time deployed: “I had the impression he was kind of put in harm’s way, knowing that he didn’t have a family. He didn’t seem the least bit resentful.”
Officials have said Wong suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and that’s what sent him to the Yountville facility. Sherr told AP that Wong told her, “I think I’m going to get a lot of help from this program.”
Authorities identified the victims as the home’s executive director, Christine Loeber, 48; therapist Jen Golick, 42; and Jennifer Gonzales, 29, a psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System.
Authorities have said they don’t yet know whether Wong targeted the victims specifically or chose them at random.
Golick’s father-in-law, Bob Golick, told the Associated Press that she recently had expelled Wong from the program.
At a news conference Saturday morning, officials said the victims brought a “unique sense of purpose and humanity to their jobs.”
Mayor Dunbar said the Pathway Home program “has been unique from the very beginning,” partly because of the way it allowed veterans to interact with the community. The program included activities such as fishing or bowling trips. Pathway “serves post-9/11 Veterans affected by deployment-related stress,” its website says.
In some cases, those in the program needed to be reintroduced into daily life, Dunbar said — that included being in crowded rooms or places with loud noises.
Some local businesses would offer the veterans anything they needed, he said, to “come and relax.”
“Sometimes that’s part of the programming, to just be human,” Dunbar said.
He said Loeber was tireless in her efforts on behalf of veterans: “She would sleep in her office more often than not because she had to be there to fill a shift. That’s the kind of personal dedication she showed all of us.”
Sherr said she was still struggling to understand what happened.
“He loved computers and he liked music. He was thoughtful and independent,” Sherr said. “He didn’t have a traditional upbringing but still he became a fine young man.”