Prosecutor: Deputy’s firefight at vets home was reasonable
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Napa County sheriff’s Deputy Steve Lombardi got to the Northern California veterans home four minutes after getting the “active shooter” report and, with his rifle at the ready, raced to the second floor where the heavily armed gunman was holed up in a room with three female hostages, according to investigators.
Standing outside the closed door, he decided to open fire when he heard the troubled U.S. Army vet “rack” his rifle and one of the hostages scream, the Napa County district attorney concluded in a report released Tuesday.
“I didn’t want her to die,” Lombardi told the prosecutor, who concluded Lombardi acted appropriately on March 9 before Albert Wong, 36, fatally shot the hostages before killing himself at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville.
Lombardi’s response was appropriate because he feared “for the lives of the women being held hostage and his own life,” Napa County District Attorney Allison Haley said.
At that time, the 26-year veteran of the sheriff’s department was the sole law enforcement officer for Yountville, a tiny and tony city of Michelin star restaurants in the heart of California’s wine country 60 miles (97 kilometers) north of San Francisco.
About one third of the town’s 3,000 residents live on the grounds of the veterans home, the nation’s largest. The city’s crime rate is low, especially violent crime. The home’s guards don’t carry guns.
The district attorney said Wong was upset that he had been kicked out of a residential treatment program for post-traumatic stress syndrome on the grounds of the veteran’s home. The nonprofit program Pathway Home leased space from the home and treated 500 veterans. Pathway shut down after the shooting.
According to Department of Defense records, Wong was a specialist E4 in the Army from May 2010 to August 2013 and served in Afghanistan for a year.
According to a partial California Highway Patrol account of the incident also released Tuesday, Wong rented a car that morning and arrived at the home equipped with a .308 assault rifle and a 12-gauge double-barrel shotgun. He also had packed extra magazines and ammunition, and he was wearing eye protection and ear protection. The CHP took over management of the incident because the home is on state property.
Investigators say Wong burst into a going-away party for one of the treatment program workers and ordered all the veterans in the second-floor room to leave. Wong also allowed all but three of the attendees to depart as well.
Wong took as hostages the program’s top three executives: clinical psychologist Jennifer Gonzales Shushereba, who was seven months pregnant, clinical director Jennifer Golick and executive director Christine Loeber, the CHP report said.
The partial report released Tuesday didn’t discuss Wong’s motives or the security present at the home before the shooting.
The CHP said it would release a full report of the shooting later.