Gunman at Veterans Home of California in Yountville has 3 hostages; motive remains unclear

An armed man took three hostages during an “active shooter situation” at a California veterans home Friday afternoon, officials confirmed, enacting a lockdown of the facility.

At 10:20 a.m., authorities received a call of shots fired at the Yountville veterans home, considered the largest such facility in the country, prompting several law enforcement agencies to respond, Assistant Chief Chris Childs, of the California Highway Patrol’s Golden Gate Division, said during an evening news conference.

Within four minutes, a Napa County Sheriff’s deputy arrived at the scene and encountered the suspect in one of the buildings, Childs said. Gunfire was exchanged.

“It’s not known at this time how many rounds were exchanged but I am happy to report that as of this moment, there have been no injuries,” he said.

The suspect is contained to one room, along with his three hostages, Childs said. Hostage negotiators from at least three agencies are at the scene, waiting to make contact with the individual.

But as of the midafternoon, California time, the motive remained undetermined and the suspect’s identity had yet to be released.

The hostages are reportedly not veterans home employees, but rather Pathway Home employees, a privately run program on the veterans home’s grounds. That group “serves post-9/11 veterans affected by deployment-related stress,” according to the Pathway Homes website.

A gunman is holding three people hostage inside the Yountville veterans home in California, police said.  (KTVU)

In an interview with The Associated Press, Larry Kamer said his wife, Devereaux Smith, a fundraiser for the nonprofit Pathway Home, told him by phone that the gunman had slipped quietly into an employee going-away party and staff meeting at the home. Some people were reportedly permitted to leave while others were taken hostage. Kamer said his wife is now inside the home’s dining hall and is not allowed to leave.

Childs characterized the situation as “very active and dynamic.”

The California Highway Patrol has assumed primary investigative jurisdiction over the  situation because the veterans home is a state-owned facility, he said.

Napa County Sheriff John Robertson said authorities know who the suspect is, but he declined to provide a name. There have been several attempts to make contact with the individual since 10:30 a.m. by both cellphone and phones in the facility, he said.

Robertson added that he knows none of the deputies were injured but did not have an official status on the condition of the hostages. The suspect did release some people, he said, but kept the three people he is currently holding.

The motivation for the episode was not clear, he said.

In all, 15 to 20 shots went off at the facility, police said, according to KTVU.

California Highway Patrol Officer John Fransen told the outlet the property of the large veterans home was evacuated after reports came in about an armed man on the grounds and law enforcement was working to build a secure perimeter.

“We do have an active shooter situation with a hostage situation in Yountville,” Fransen told KTVU.

Several law enforcement agencies responded to the hostage scene.  (KTVU)

A number of ambulances, fire trucks and an armored police vehicle were seen at the property.

Earlier in the afternoon, The Press Democrat reported that family members of workers and residents were at the scene, anxiously awaiting word. Fernando Juarez, 36, of Napa said his 22-year-old sister Vanessa Flores is a caregiver at the facility and was exchanging texts with family while sheltering in place with a client.

Flores told family she could hear people yelling “Get down! Get down!” She also asked her brother to ensure her 3-year-old son is taken care of if she should not survive the ordeal.

“I’m trying to be calm,” Juarez said.

According to the California Department of Veterans Affairs, the Veterans Home of California in Yountville dates back to 1884 and is considered the largest veterans home in the U.S. with more than 1000 veterans from all wars dating back to World War II.

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for more information. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lucia I. Suarez Sang is a Reporter for Follow her on Twitter @luciasuarezsang

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