Ten days after an Army veteran fatally shot three mental health workers at the country’s largest veterans home in Yountville, hundreds gathered at a theater on the site of the veterans home Monday night to mourn and honor the women who were killed.
The victims included Christine Loeber, 48, executive director of the Pathway Home, a residential community that provides mental health services for veterans transitioning to civilian life, as well as Pathway’s clinical psychologist Jennifer Gonzales Shushereba, 32, who was seven months pregnant, and Jennifer Gray Golick, 42, a clinical director at the program.
The 1,200-seat theater at the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center was filled to capacity, as relatives of the victims, friends, colleagues, veterans, elected officials and others gathered to mourn the victims and celebrate their lives.
The community has been left reeling since March 9, when the gunman, identified by authorities as 36-year-old Albert Cheung Wong of Sacramento, a former patient at the Pathway Home, burst into a party for an employee at the agency and took the three women hostage inside a room, triggering a response from local and state law enforcement and the FBI before fatally shooting the women and himself.
During the memorial, Mike Gonzales described his daughter, Gonzales Shushereba, as someone who was fiercely dedicated to helping others. During the October fires that ravaged the Napa and Sonoma areas, for instance, she put on her particulate mask and packed some air sickness bags for her pregnancy-related morning sickness and made the rounds, seeking veterans and others in the area who needed her help.
“That was Jennifer,” Gonzales said.
The three women, he said, shared a combination of attributes that made them special.
“They were willing to spend their lives toiling in obscurity doing a job that is thankless and never going to end,” he said. “Who does that? My thought is that only the best of us do.”
A group of employees from the VA Palo Alto Health Care System spoke before the memorial about how competent, professional and dedicated the three victims were to their work in helping veterans.
Jean Cooney, a clinical psychologist with VA Palo Alto, spoke of Loeber as someone who was passionate about her work.
“She was sort of the epitome of a mental health professional — an exceptional clinician,” Cooney said, and as a person, “she was exuberant.”
“Irreplaceable” was the word Keith Armstrong of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Healthcare System used to describe Loeber, Gray Golick and Gonzales Shushereba.
“It is professionally devastating, it is personally devastating and it is spiritually devastating,” Armstrong said in front of the packed theater.
Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), spoke of the women’s service to veterans, urging the need for others to “aspire to that service,” and of the need to “provide adequate resources for our veterans.”
Zach Skiles, a Marine Corps veteran and graduate of the Pathway Home where the women worked, said the work they did stood out against the “lip service” veterans so often hear from politicians and others.
That, Skiles said, “outlines the importance of what these three women gave at Pathway Home — an authentic connection.”
“Thank you for giving everything in the service of veterans,” Skiles said of Loeber, Gray Golick, and Gonzales Shushereba.
“It’s impossible to count how many lives they made better, and how many lives they saved,” Yountville Mayor John Dunbar, who also served on the board of the Pathway Home, said of the women. “That will be part of their legacy.”
The “Celebration of Life” event at the Performing Arts Center on the campus of the Veterans Home of California was a collaboration by the Pathway Home, the Yountville veterans home, the California Department of Veterans Affairs; the town of Yountville; the Yountville Chamber of Commerce; the Performing Arts Center at the Lincoln Theater; and the U.S. Veterans Administration.
The Pathway Home has set up a fund to provide direct support to families of the three victims. Donations can be sent to: 3 Brave Women Fund c/o Mentis, 709 Franklin Street, Napa CA 94559. Additionally, GoFundMe sites have been set up for Gonzales and Golick by friends and family.
Source: East Bay Yountville shooting: Hundreds gather to mourn, honor women killed