A gunman slipped into an employee going-away party at the largest veterans home in the United States and took at least three people hostage Friday, leading to a lockdown of the sprawling grounds in California, authorities and family members said.
California Highway Patrol Sgt. Robert Nacke told reporters that he knew of no injuries, and authorities gave no immediate information about the gunman or his motive. Police evacuated the property of the Veterans Home of California after reports of a man with a gun at the facility in Yountville, one of Napa Valley’s most upscale towns in the heart of Northern California wine country.
“We do have an active shooter situation with a hostage situation in Yountville,” Highway Patrol Officer John Fransen told KTVU-TV of San Francisco.
Larry Kamer told The Associated Press that his wife, Devereaux Smith, was at the party and told him by phone that the gunman had entered the room quietly, letting some people leave while taking others hostage.
Smith, a fundraiser for the nonprofit Pathway Home, was still inside the facility’s dining hall and was not allowed to leave, he said. The Pathway Home, a privately run program on the veteran home’s grounds, treats veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with post-traumatic stress disorder.
An armored police vehicle, ambulances and several fire trucks were at the facility, which is home to about 1,000 residents.
Jan Thornton of Vallejo, California, was among hundreds of relatives worried how their loved ones were coping with the lockdown. Thornton said her 96-year-old father — a WWII fighter pilot — was inside a hospital wing and she had reached one of his friends who said he was safe.
Still, she worked about the stress of the lockdown on her father, considering his age and that he has post-traumatic stress disorder and some dementia. Thornton said her “heart just bleeds for the people that are being held hostage.”
Events manager Elizabeth Naylor, who was working about 10 miles north of the veterans’ home, said she heard waves of emergency sirens. She said she’s lived in Yountville since 1995 and is rattled about a shooting so close to home.
“I don’t know the world we live in today, I really don’t,” she said. “This is a little community and we all know each other. Napa Valley is a wonderful, beautiful place and to know this is in your background, it’s unsettling.”
The Napa County Sheriff’s Department issued an alert to residents at 10:30 a.m. warning them to avoid the area.
The state Veterans Affairs department says the home that opened in 1984 is the nation’s largest veterans home, with about 1,000 elderly and disabled residents. Its website says it offers residential accommodations with recreational, social, and therapeutic activities for independent living.
The grounds also are 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.
Yountville is a small town home to wineries such as Domaine Chandon, which is less than a half-mile from the veterans home, and Thomas Keller’s famed restaurant The French Laundry, which is about a mile away. Messages left at both establishments were not immediately returned.
Associated Press Writers Olga R. Rodriguez, Paul Elias and Jocelyn Gecker in San Franciso, and Amanda Lee Myers in Los Angeles contributed to this report.