Gunman Takes Hostages At California Veterans Home

YOUNTVILLE, Calif. (CBS) — A gunman took three people hostage at the largest veterans home in the United States on Friday, leading to a lockdown of the sprawling grounds in northern California, authorities said.

The hostages are all Pathway Home employees, according to Napa County Sheriff John Robertson. The Pathway Home is a privately run program on the grounds of the Veterans Home of California in Yountville. The suspect has three hostages detained in one room, where he is contained, and hostage negotiators from multiple agencies were on site, California Highway Patrol Capt. Chris Childs said.

Authorities have not yet made contact with the suspect, according to Childs. No injuries have been reported. Robertson says he doesn’t know the status of the hostages or the gunman’s motive.

Deputies responded to reports of shots fired around 10:20 a.m., and there was an exchange of gunfire with the suspect, Robertson said, confirming there were “many bullets fired.” No deputies were injured. The suspect is believed to have a rifle.

A man tells the Associated Press a gunman quietly came into a going-away party and staff meeting at the campus and let some leave, while keeping others hostage.

Larry Kamer says his wife, Devereaux Smith, was at the party Friday morning of 10 to 15 people at the Pathway Home, which treats veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Kamer says his wife is now inside the home’s dining hall and is not allowed to leave. He spoke to her by phone.

He does not know if the suspect was a veteran receiving treatment from the home.

Kamer said he does not know why the suspect let his wife and some colleagues leave. Robertson confirmed the suspect let some people go before taking the three hostages.

June Iljana, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Veterans Affairs, told CBS News veteran residents and staff are sheltering in place. About 850 veteran residents live at the home, Iljana said.

The California Highway Patrol said via Twitter its officers are on the scene working with Napa County Sheriff’s deputies “to bring the situation to a safe conclusion.”

CHP aerial resources were on the scene and a SWAT team had also responded. Agents from ATF are responding to assist, a law enforcement source told CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton.

The Napa Valley Register reported that the suspect was seen wearing body armor and armed with an automatic weapon. Robertson couldn’t confirm the report that the suspect was wearing body armor or the type of weapon he has, other than to say it was apparently a rifle.

A witness told CBS San Francisco dozens of emergency vehicles were racing along Highway 29 toward the veterans home, including at least four ambulances.

The state Veterans Affairs department says the home that opened in 1984 is the largest veterans’ home in the United States and houses elderly and disabled residents. Its website says it offers residential accommodations with recreational, social, and therapeutic activities for independent living.

Veterans of World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm, and Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom now live at the home, according to the website.

Jan Thornton tells the Associated Press her 96-year-old father – a WWII fighter pilot – is inside a hospital wing at the home. Thornton says she’s still shaking and that she hasn’t been able to talk to her father. But, she says she was able to talk to one of his friends, who is also locked down, and that he told her that her father is safe.

She says her “heart just bleeds for the people that are being held hostage.”

Though she thinks her dad is safe, she is still worried about the stress of the situation, considering his age and that he has post-traumatic stress disorder and some dementia.

The grounds are also 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 in Napa Valley, the heart of Northern California’s wine country.

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.”