Army friends of the gunman in Friday's deadly hostage standoff at the Veterans Home of California-Yountville paint a picture of the shooter as a veteran struggling to reintegrate into civilian life.
The Napa County Sheriff's Office identified the shooter as as Albert Wong, 36, of Sacramento. Wong served an infantryman in the US Army and served in Afghanistan from April 2011 to March 2012, according to information provided by the Army.
“It’s very shocking. I’ve never seen him yell or be angry,” said Ricardo Saenz, who has been friends with Wong since they went through basic training together. “It’s really saddening what happened to him and the people he hurt.”
Saenz said Wong grew up in the foster care system and didn't have much of a support system outside of the military. Saenz, who lives in Texas with his wife, offered to take Wong in but Wong declined.
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"He had nobody to turn to. He was ashamed to ask for help. He didn’t know his family," Saenz said.
He said Wong had trouble getting reimbursed through the GI bill program for classes he took. Saenz said Wong told him he suffered post traumatic stress disorder and was homeless after being put out of the VA program.
“He was trying to put his feet on the ground and it was hard for him,” Saenz said. “I'm disappointed he didn’t ask for help. None of this should have happened. He should have taken help.”
Cissy Sherr told the San Francisco Chronicle that she and her husband, Matthew, were Wong's legal guardians for a time after his father died and mother developed health problems when he was a boy. He moved back in with them in Millbrae for a short period in 2013 after he'd returned from Afghanistan, she said.
Jeffery Watts, who said he was deployed with Wong in Afghanistan, said via Twitter that Wong told that him through texts and phone calls that he'd been “put out on the street without a treatment plan” after multiple “run ins with staff and other patients at the VA home over racial disparities.”
Watts, who lives in Georgia, said they spoke once or twice a month.
"Everyone that knew him loved and respected him. He was, hands down, the best soldier we had. He was hard working and dedicated," Watts said. He said he was surprised by the news of the deaths and that Wong seemed very on edge about his treatment.
During his service he was awarded an Army Commendation Medal, an Army Good Conduct Medal and campaign stars for fighting global terrorism and for marksmanship.
Wong held professional licenses as a security guard and security trainer, as well as firearms permit through the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services starting in 2008, according to public records.
Wong was removed from the Pathway Home residential program for post-9/11 veterans housed at the Yountville facility.
Yountville Mayor John Dunbar said more will come out about Wong's time at the center, but declined to offer details when asked at a Saturday news conference.
“We also lost one of our heroes who clearly had demons that resulted in the terrible tragedy that we all experienced here,” said Dunbar after first speaking of the loss of three employees killed by Wong: executive director Christine Loeber, 48; clinical director Jennifer Golick, 42, and clinical psychologist Jennifer Gonzalez, 29.
A family friend told The Associated Press that Gonzales was seven months pregnant. Golick’s father-in-law, Mike Golick, said in an interview she had recently expelled Wong from the program, according to the Associated Press.