Gunman in deadly hostage incident was highly decorated Army veteran
iStock/Thinkstock(YOUNTVILLE, Calif.) — The former Army sharpshooter who allegedly killed three hostages, including a pregnant woman, during a nearly eight-hour siege of a Northern California veterans home was a highly decorated military veteran who had a tough time readjusting to civilian life after serving in Afghanistan, his former legal guardian told ABC News.
Suspected gunman Albert Wong, 36, who also died Friday in the Wine Country region of Napa County, served in Afghanistan from April 2011 to March 2012, but returned from the battlefield suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, his former guardian said.
“We had long talks when he first came back. It was horrible what he saw over there. The way he explained it, it was like a movie but worse,” Cissy Sherr, who was Wong’s legal guardian and help raise him as a child, told ABC News.
Sherr, who lives in the Bay Area, said Wong had a difficult time readjusting to civilian life, explaining he suffered from insomnia and anxiety over his everyday surroundings.
“I think he realized that it started to catch up with him,” Sherr said. “He and I had talks about PTSD and I encouraged him to look into transcendental meditation.”
She said Wong’s father died when he was 8 years old and his mother had physical disabilities that prevented her from caring for him. Sherr said she and her husband, who knew Wong’s parents, agreed to become Wong’s legal guardian.
She said when Wong became a teenager he went to live at a foster care home, but always stayed in touch.
She said Wong, after returning from combat, had sought help at a nonprofit program called Pathway Home in Yountville, which provides post-9/11 military veterans counseling and assistance in reintegrating into civilian life.
“He was really, really trying. He seemed to be getting the help that he needed,” Sherr said.
Wong’s foster care brother, Tyrone Lampkin, told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that Wong was asked to leave the Path Home program about two weeks ago after he was caught with a knife. He said Wong was angry about being dismissed from the program.
“Whatever happened out there, he didn’t say he was going to shoot anybody,” Lampkin told the newspaper. “He said he wanted to get back at them, talk to them, yell at them, not to kill them. He didn’t mention that.”
Citing privacy laws, Yountville Mayor John Dunbar, who serves on the board of directors of the Pathway Home, told ABC News on Sunday that he could not discuss any aspect of Wong’s treatment. But he confirmed Wong “was dismissed from the program a few weeks earlier.”
Armed with a rifle and numerous rounds of ammunition, authorities said, Wong burst into an employee going away party at the Veteran Home of California about 10:30 a.m. on Friday and took hostages, including some who had tried to help him cope with PTSD, officials said.
During the standoff, Wong traded gunshots with a Napa County sheriff’s deputy whom officials credited with keeping the gunman confined to a room he barricaded himself in on the 600 acre-property. When SWAT team members finally breached the room where Wong was holding the hostages about 6 p.m. Friday, they found Wong and three victims dead.
The victims were identified as Pathway Home executive director Christine Loeber, 48; the program’s clinical director, Jennifer Golick, 42, and psychologist Jennifer Gonzales, 32, who was six months pregnant.
It remained unclear on Sunday whether Wong died from a wound suffered in the gunfight with the sheriff deputy or from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Sherr, who says she last spoke to Wong several months ago, said she learned of the hostage incident from a reporter while the standoff was occurring.
“We were hopeful that there was going to be a peaceful resolution. When we found out how it ended, I just pretty much fell apart,” Sherr said.
“I don’t understand. I don’t know the person they were describing,” she said. “Growing up, he was so soft spoken and polite.”
She said Wong always had a desire to join the military, saying, “He wanted to serve his country.”
According to his military record, Wong served in the Army reserves before enlisting as an active service member of the Army in May 2010.
He was deployed to Afghanistan from April 2011 to March 2012, according to his service record. He received an Army Commendation Medal, a Good Conduct Medal and the Afghanistan Medal. He also received the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, a NATO Medal, a Combat Infantryman Badge and an Expert Marksmanship Badge.
Sherr said she wishes Wong had reached out to her for help.
“But it wasn’t his habit to ask for handouts. He was always a young man with character,” Sherr said. “He was a really good boy. It’s sad that it had to be this way. It’s a sad waste of a life.”
Mayor Dunbar said he and the staff at Pathway Home are focused on supporting the six veterans residents who are currently going through the program and assisting the families of the three women who were killed.
“They dedicated their lives to serving others, particularly our veterans,” Dunbar told ABC News, adding that the victims were all friends. “They wanted to make sure that the veterans who came back, who needed support, got that support. They personally committed themselves to whatever it took to help our veterans heal, to return to family, to return to society.”
He said that in the 10 years since the Pathway Home program was founded “we’ve never had a violent episode anywhere near this.”
“These are warriors who come back that have behavioral health and mental health challenges,” Dunbar said, “but we have staff that are professionals, that are dedicated to helping those that need that type of help.”
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