YOUNTVILLE — The all-day standoff between law enforcement and a gunman with three hostages at the Veterans Home of California ended tragically Friday evening with the announcement that the shooter and his hostages were dead.
Chris Childs, assistant chief of the CHP’s Bay Area division, said the bodies of the male suspect and three female hostages were found shortly before 6 p.m.
The Napa County Sheriff-Coroner will release the names of the victims and the suspect after next-of-kin are notified.
Childs said it was still an active crime scene, with more information about the crime to be released later. The time and cause of death were not disclosed.
Napa County Sheriff John Robertson said his department will “invest a lot more hours, if not days” into the investigation.
A task force of law enforcement agencies descended on the Yountville facility after an armed man with a rifle burst into a farewell party at The Pathway Home, a nonprofit on the Vets Home grounds, and took three staff members hostage while releasing others, law enforcement said.
The suspect, who exchanged gunfire with the first Napa County Sheriff’s deputy to arrive, is believed to have been a former member of The Pathway Home, a privately run program for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with emotional traumas.
Early reports said the man, 36 years old, had been discharged from the treatment program two weeks ago.
Childs praised a Napa County sheriff’s deputy for engaging in an exchange of gunfire with the active shooter when he arrived on scene shortly before 10:30 a.m. This may have prevented the gunman from finding more victims, he said.
Dressed in black and wearing body armor, the active shooter was reported holed up in Pathway’s Madison Building, also known as Building G, on the Vets Home grounds. Scores of officers from many area law enforcement agencies had the building surrounded.
Negotiators from the FBI were called to the scene, but officials said they never made contact with the gunman who did not answer his cellphone or other phones in the building.
In a mid-afternoon news conference, Napa County Sheriff John Robertson said officials knew who the gunman was, but weren’t releasing his name and did not know what his motive was.
The Vets Home, with more than 800 residents and hundreds of additional employees, was placed on lockdown for most of the day, but authorities said the surrounding Yountville community was not at risk.
A rental vehicle belonging to the suspect was located on the grounds of the Veterans Home. A bomb-sniffing dog indicated the vehicle might contain explosives, but this turned out to not be the case, Childs said.
Larry Kamer told The Associated Press that his wife, Devereaux Smith, a fundraiser for The Pathway Home, had been attending a going-away party at the program when a gunman had entered the room, letting some people leave while taking others hostage.
When the initial report came in at 10:20, dozens of law enforcement officers from throughout Napa County and beyond descended on the Veterans Home and set up a perimeter on the Veterans Home grounds.
David Ferguson, a resident of the Vets Home, called the incident “crazy,” asking, “What’s a gunman doing here? It’s a bunch of old farts. Most of the people around here are in their 80s and 90s and have a walker, wheelchair or a scooter.”
Jane Phillips of Napa was mid-way through a round of golf at the adjacent Vintners golf course when it was ordered evacuated. Told of the armed standoff at the Veterans Home, she said, “I’m out of here.”
Golfer Michael Berg of Yountville said he wasn’t surprised that his quiet town was the site of an “armed shooter” report. “It seems like the safest place in the world,” he said of Yountville, but gun violence in America is “endemic,” he said.
“I think weapons are too easy to get. Is the price worth it?” Berg said.
Among those ordered to shelter in place were some 80 theater students from Justin-Siena High School in Napa who were rehearsing “Guys and Dolls” inside the Lincoln Theater on the Veterans Home grounds. The theater was not near the location of the police standoff.
Adam Green, father of a Justin ninth-grader, said he and his daughter were communicating via text messages, he from the police perimeter, she from the Lincoln Theater. He was there to make sure she was OK, he said.
Justin-Siena reported early Friday afternoon that students were in the process of being released from the theater to cars and the Justin-Siena bus.
Kay Klykun of Napa also joined the small crowd of waiting relatives, saying that her 96-year-old father was a home resident who was presumed to be sheltering in place.
“It’s such a scary situation,” she said. “It’s such a peaceful place. I’m sure he’s OK but at 96 he could get pretty scared. I’m not going anywhere until I see my dad.”
The incident drew some two dozen reporters to the Veterans Home, including six TV trucks with satellite dishes. The story was picked up by the national media. The Register fielded media calls from throughout California as well as from the East Coast.
Gov. Jerry Brown issued a statement Friday evening: “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.”
Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff in recognition of the victims and their families, Brown said.
Register reporters Maria Sestito and Jennifer Huffman, online editor Samie Hartley, City Editor Kevin Courtney and The Associated Press contributed to this story.