A gunman took at least three people hostage at a large veterans home in California on Friday and police locked down the sprawling grounds, Napa County Fire Capt. Chase Beckman said. (March 9)AP
A gunman and three hostages who were taken prisoner inside the nation’s largest veterans’ home in California were found dead late Friday after an hours-long standoff in which dozens of bullets were fired at police outside, authorities confirmed.
California Highway Patrol chief Chris Childs said the bodies of the gunman and the three women he took hostage were found by officers around 6 p.m. Friday. They were in a room where the gunman had holed up with his hostages; it’s unclear when the deaths happened.
The tragic end culminated a tense standoff that began at 10:30 PT and left worried relatives wondering about loved ones.
Police in SWAT gear had locked down the sprawling property at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville, in the heart of Napa Valley’s wine country.
Napa County Sheriff John Robertson said earlier in the day that “many bullets” were fired by the gunman at deputies outside the building, but no one was injured. Deputies returned fire, he said.
Robertson said authorities know the gunman’s identity and had tried to call his cell phone, but got no answer.
Childs said earlier in the day that the hostages were employees of The Pathway Home, a privately run program on the veterans home’s grounds. The program treats veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Napa County Sheriff’s Department issued an alert to residents at 10:30 a.m. Friday warning them to avoid the area because of “activity at the Veterans Home.” Details remain sketchy, but the Associated Press quoted one man who said the gunman barged into an employee going-away party and told some people to leave and others to stay.
Police radio transmissions described the suspect as 5-foot-6, with a rifle and a scope, CBS reported. At least 15-30 shots were fired at deputies, according to the radio transmission, CBS reported.
The Napa Valley Register reported the gunman appeared to be wearing body armor.
It’s unclear how many residents of the home — many of whom are infirm or bed-ridden — were inside during the hostage situation. Jan Thornton of Vallejo says her 96-year-old father – a WWII fighter pilot – was inside a hospital wing at the home.
Thornton says she’s still shaking and that she hasn’t been able to talk to her father. But, she says she was able to talk to one of his friends, who was also locked down, and that he told her that her father was safe.
She said her “heart just bleeds for the people that are being held hostage.”
Though she thinks her dad is safe, she said she still worried about the stress of the situation, considering his age and that he has post-traumatic stress disorder and some dementia.
California’s Veterans Affairs department said the home that opened in 1884 is the largest veterans’ facility in the United States, with about 1,000 elderly and disabled residents. Its website said it offers residential accommodations with recreational, social and therapeutic activities for independent living.
Veterans of World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm, and Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom now live at the home, according to the website.
The grounds are also home to a 1,200-seat theater, a 9-hole golf course, a baseball stadium, bowling lanes, a swimming pool and a military Base Exchange branch store.
Contributing: Associated Press