Rep. Mike Thompson was landing Friday morning at San Francisco International Airport after a cross-country flight when his cellphone buzzed with horrific news — a gunman had stormed the Veterans Home of California in Yountville and taken people hostage.
“Needless to say, my schedule was altered,” Thompson said.
Instead of heading to a preplanned gun violence town hall meeting in Sacramento, the St. Helena Democrat, who for years has been pushing for tougher gun laws, jumped in his car and drove straight to the Napa Valley institution, which by then was crawling with SWAT teams and other first responders.
Thompson was briefed on the way by Sheriff John Robertson. A deputy had exchanged gunfire with the suspect, who burst into the offices of the Pathway Home, a special program for returning combat veterans, about 10:20 a.m. Thompson’s own son, Deputy Jon Thompson, had been among the first at the scene.
His son was safe, but just what became of the hostages was not clear. Thompson waited in the command center as people everywhere watched another shooting unfold on national TV.
“I nervously awaited any information at all,” Thompson said Monday. “No one knew anything for sure. The speculation was clear, but no one knew.”
Eight hours later, the worst was confirmed: three mental health clinicians, including two women Thompson knew, had been killed. The suspected gunman, a 36-year-old Afghanistan war veteran, also was dead.
Waves of nausea and sadness followed.
“I couldn’t help being concerned about the rippling effect,” Thompson said. “Everybody is going to be touched by this. Every first responder. Everyone at the Veterans’ Home. Everybody is harmed.”
Among the dead was Pathway Home executive director Christine Loeber, a person Thompson had been introduced to just after she was hired. Another victim, staff therapist Jen Golick, was a family friend.
Thompson’s wife had been a nurse at St. Helena Hospital with Golick’s mother, and Thompson attended her wedding.
“I saw her grow up and become a wonderful woman,” Thompson said. “I watched her get married and start a family.”
He didn’t know the third victim, Jennifer Gonzales Shushereba, a psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, who was six months pregnant, law enforcement officials said.
The whole community “will be rocked by this case,” he said. “Loved ones have been taken. It’s senseless, needless and shameful.”
The shooter was identified as Albert Wong, a former Army infantryman who had lived at the Veterans Home for about a year until being kicked out two weeks ago when he was found carrying knives.
Family said Wong was angry about what happened. Friday, he walked into a Pathway Home office party dressed in black and with ammunition around his neck, taking the three women hostage and killing them.
Although such tragedies make the biggest headlines, gun violence in general is alarmingly common, Thompson said.
On average, 30 people are killed every day by someone using a gun.
“It’s an ongoing, daily issue,” Thompson said.
He said he did not know what would happen to Pathway Home. Thompson, a The Vietnam veteran, said its services for returning veterans are critical.
“They’ve helped a lot of vets carry a heavy and troubling load,” Thompson said. “We have too many vets who need help. We’re letting them down and that should not be the case.”