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‘Loving, Caring, and Selfless’: Remembering Christine Loeber, BC SSW ’08

Last weekend, Maura Turner had planned to head up to Napa Valley after a work conference in the Bay area to visit with Christine Loeber, SSW ’08, her friend of over 20 years. Soon after arriving, however, she learned that their anticipated girls’ weekend wouldn’t happen. Instead, she would be helping Loeber’s family prepare for her funeral.

Loeber, two of her coworkers, and the gunman who had taken them hostage, identified by Napa County authorities as Albert Wong, were found dead Friday evening at the Pathway Home, a program in Yountville, Calif., that treats troubled war veterans.

Wong, a veteran of the War in Afghanistan and a former program participant, had entered the campus with at least one loaded rifle and arrived at a going-away party for two staff members, according to Larry Kamer, a spokesman for the organization.

Loeber wasn’t supposed to be at work that day.

The Heights was not able to receive a comment at press time from Devereaux Smith, the nonprofit’s director of development and communications, who came in direct contact with Wong before being ordered to leave the room.

Wong exchanged fire with a deputy from the Napa County Sheriff’s Office, and held the three employees hostage for a number of hours before killing them and committing suicide.

Loeber was a 2008 graduate of the Boston College School of Social Work and the executive director of the Pathway Home. Jen Golick, a staff psychologist, and Jennifer Gonzales, a psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs, are the other victims of the gunman.

As news of the event spread across the country, countless individuals mourned the deaths of the employees. Yountville Mayor John Dunbar told local reporters that the three will be remembered as beautiful people and called the gunman “one of our heroes who clearly had demons.” Many expressed their condolences and thoughts on gun control on Twitter, using the hashtags “#Younteville” and “#NeverAgain.” President Donald Trump took to Twitter to express his sadness over the tragedy.

The Heights received comment from various members of the Boston College community expressing their sorrow over Loeber’s loss.

“Christine was, by all accounts, a loving, caring and selfless individual who chose her career path after attending the School of Social Work so that she could help veterans who were struggling with mental illness,” University Spokesman Jack Dunn said in an email to The Heights. “She died doing what she loved and was called to do. The prayers of the entire BC community go out to the Loeber family.”

Additionally, Dean of the SSW Gautam Yadama issued a letter to the SSW community the day after the event occurred, detailing Loeber’s academic life at BC and professional life after graduation, as well as expressing his personal sadness that she was a victim of this tragedy. Personal friends of hers also took the time to speak with The Heights.

“From our perspective, being very good friends with Christine—she’s like a member of our family—we feel like we’ve had this charmed life until now, and we have young boys who have never been touched by tragedy,” said Tom Turner, husband of Maura Turner. “This is unbelievable—both the person it happened to and the manner in which it happened.”

Prior to attending BC, Loeber received a degree in communication from the University of New Hampshire and then had a career in marketing, working with the New England Sports Network. She later transitioned to the health care industry, working for the homeless, and developed a passion for serving underprivileged individuals, according to Sharon Baker, a former coworker and the clinical director of the Women’s Integrated Treatment and Recovery Program at the Boston VA Medical Center. This inspired her to return to school in her mid-30s for social work.

“Being her friend, it was clear that she always had an incredible empathy with everyone,” Turner said. “It isn’t a surprise to me that she would do something that is more oriented toward helping people. You could just see her ability to do that simply because you were her friend.”

After Loeber graduated, Baker worked with her at the VA Medical Center, where she started her career as a trauma and addictions therapist. She later worked as a social worker, specializing in trauma in the Men and Women’s Trauma Recovery Program at the Palo Alto VA and as acting assistant chief of mental health for the Community Based Outpatient Clinic, outpatient therapist, and military sexual trauma coordinator at the Santa Rosa VA. She most recently worked as the executive director of the Yountville Pathway Home program, the largest of its kind in the United States.

Vibrant, passionate, confident, and fun, Loeber engaged on a deeply personal level with each veteran or staff member she encountered and possessed an extraordinary work ethic. One veteran who she treated at the medical center, Christina Fields, spoke about how Loeber connected with her and helped her reintegrate into society after fighting in Iraq.

“Christine would make me feel safe and ease me into talking because I was shy in the groups,” she said. “One-on-one therapy with her gave me the strength to think before reacting to a situation.”

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in November, Loeber discussed the methodology behind her therapy.

“When these people are in combat, their systems are programmed to keep them alive under incredibly stressful situations,” Loeber said. “Nobody helps them understand that when they get back they have to reprogram their nervous system to operate at a different caliber so they can be successful civilians.”

She also decided to experiment with complementary and alternative medicine, and began doing trauma-sensitive yoga with the veterans while working in Massachusetts. This instantly became a hit, and she continued to do this wherever she had to relocate when she got a new job.

“Her true dedication was to working with veterans,” Baker said. “She had a strong interest in helping people who’ve experienced trauma to have better lives. Her yoga and all her work speak to this.”

Loeber’s impact, Turner believes, will be that she inspired more people to take up the causes that she believed in and that her death underscores the need for people like her to pursue this work.

“The way I look at it, she was living her passion fully in terms of her work, and she ended up having that cut short,” Baker said. “But somehow, that spirit lives on, and I think it inspires people. More than anything, it can be an inspiration to live fully, because you never know what might happen.”

One veteran who Loeber treated at the Massachusetts VA facility reached out to Baker, offering a powerful thought on her legacy.

“The pain may never leave us, but we can be dedicated to our purpose in life and capture the love and livelihood that Christine showed us with her life,” the veteran said.

This article has been updated.

Featured Image by Santiago Mejia / San Francisco Chronicle

March 15, 2018