When Christine Loeber told her father she wanted to switch jobs — from working for New England Sports Network to caring for military veterans — he told her she was crazy.
“I said, ‘Don’t be stupid, NESN is going to be a big company,’ ” said Donald Loeber, who lives in Easton. “She said, ‘Dad, I want to help people.’ ”
Loeber, 48, spent the next 15 years doing just that, landing at the VA Medical Center in Brockton as a therapist, then moving to California, where she was recruited to head The Pathway Home, a veterans center in Yountville that caters to post-9/11 veterans dealing with physical and emotional problems.
On Friday, she was shot to death along with 42-year-old Jennifer Golick, the program’s clinical director, and 29-year-old Jennifer Gonzales, a clinical psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System. The women were killed by a former US soldier who had taken them hostage during a staff meeting. The former soldier, 36-year-old Albert Wong, then killed himself.
“She died doing what she loved doing,” Donald Loeber said. “She wanted to serve people.”
The first shots were fired inside The Pathway Home program Friday at about 10:20 a.m., after Wong walked into a going-away party and staff meeting. He let some staff members leave, but kept Loeber, Golick, and Gonzales hostage.
Golick’s father-in-law said Golick had recently kicked Wong out of the program.
Loeber’s death at the hands of a veteran shocked Tom Turner of Dedham, a close friend whose wife, Maura, was in California for work, and planned to spend the weekend with Loeber.
“It’s just an awful irony,” Turner said by telephone Saturday night. “Someone that she was so focused on helping would end up being the reason that she’s not with us anymore.”
Loeber had taken the day off from work Friday but went in to attend a co-worker’s farewell gathering, Tom Turner said.
Maura Turner had planned to meet up with Loeber on Friday, but when she arrived at her home, she wasn’t there, he said.
When he learned Loeber had been taken hostage, he hoped her natural empathy and critical training would lead to a peaceful resolution.
Turner and his wife are grateful for their long friendship with Loeber.
“Our lives are better because of the time we spent with her,” he said.
Department of Defense records obtained by the Associated Press show that Wong was an Army veteran who had served in the infantry during three years of active service ending in August 2013, and had been awarded four medals. He spent a year in Afghanistan.
Many of the veterans cared for at The Pathway Home have seen multiple combat deployments, and struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, depression, substance abuse, and other issues.
On Saturday, investigators were still trying to determine when and why Wong killed Loeber, Golick, and Gonzales.
It was ‘‘far too early to say if they were chosen at random’’ because investigators had not yet determined a motive, California Highway Patrol Assistant Chief Chris Childs said.
Governor Jerry Brown ordered flags flown at half-staff at the capitol in memory of the victims.
President Trump tweeted Saturday morning: ‘‘We are deeply saddened by the tragic situation in Yountville and mourn the loss of three incredible women who cared for our Veterans.’’
The Pathway Home is located on the sprawling campus of the veterans center, which cares for about 1,000 elderly and disabled veterans. It is the nation’s largest veterans home, according to the state Department of Veterans Affairs.
“These brave women were accomplished professionals who dedicated their careers to serving our nation’s veterans, working closely with those in the greatest need of attention after deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan,’’ the home said in a statement.
Donald Loeber said his daughter grew up in Massachusetts and graduated from Oliver Ames High School in Easton. She got a degree in communications from the University of New Hampshire, he said.
“The university was devastated to learn she was a victim of such a senseless tragedy,” UNH spokeswoman Erika Mantz said in a statement. “The thoughts and prayers of our entire Wildcat community are with her family and friends.”
After college, Christine Loeber worked for NESN, first as a marketing and community relations coordinator and then as an affiliate relations manager, according to her father and her LinkedIn account. She left the network in 1999 and spent a year each at Massachusetts companies Engage and The Yankee Group, as well as local news network NECN. She then changed gears, spending five years at Boston Health Care for the Homeless, working in the development office writing grants and writing for donors.
“She was a really wonderful critical thinker,” said Barry Bock, BHCHP’s chief executive officer. “You were really struck by what a good human being she was.”
Loeber was always dedicated to social justice issues, Bock said, particularly women’s rights and serving veterans. Bock said he had spent Saturday morning talking to staff members, and everyone commented on what a magical person she was. She was warm and funny, and could be goofy, but her jokes were never sarcastic or biting, he said.
“She seemed to just love to laugh,” he said.
They stayed in touch even after she left, Bock said, and a few months ago she sent him an e-mail updating him on her life in California, working for The Pathway Home.
“She really felt like she had landed in a wonderful place,” Bock said.
In 2004, Loeber enrolled at the Boston College School of Social Work, where she specialized in mental health and earned a master’s degree in 2008.
“She distinguished herself as a gifted student who was passionate about serving veterans,” said college spokesman Jack Dunn in a statement.
She joined the VA the year she graduated, working as a trauma and substance use disorder therapist at the Women’s Integrated Treatment and Recovery Program.
“She was into helping women coming back from the war with problems, drinking, and drugs,” Donald Loeber said. “She loved it.”
Pallas Wahl, a spokeswoman for the VA Boston Healthcare System, said the program offers eight weeks of residential group and individual treatment.
Loeber was the first to introduce trauma-sensitive yoga as an innovative form of treatment to women in the program, Wahl said.
“VA Boston Healthcare System grieves the loss of Christine Loeber,” Wahl said in a statement.
Loeber moved in 2013 to California, where she worked as a social worker specializing in trauma in the Men and Women’s Trauma Recovery Program at the Palo Alto VA, and at the Santa Rosa VA Clinic, according to Dunn and her LinkedIn.
In 2016, she was recruited to serve as executive director of The Pathway Home, according to her father and her LinkedIn.
“She was happy as hell up there; she loved it,” said Donald Loeber, who had visited her in California several times. “She was working with guys who were screwed up in Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s a home for them, really. A nice place.”
They had walked the grounds, he said — including a golf course where law enforcement was landing helicopters Friday, he said.
“It pisses me off that a veteran killed my daughter,” said Donald Loeber, who himself served both in the Air Force from 1960 to 1966 and later in the Navy reserves.