SAN FRANCISCO — Just days after a veteran receiving PTSD treatment walked into the Yountville Veterans Home with a rifle and opened fire, killing three women and taking his own life, threats started pouring in to other Veterans Assistance centers around the Bay Area.
In addition to threatening shootings, the calls and voice mails contained hundreds of racial, anti-semitic, and homophobic slurs. In recorded messages, the man told staffers he would “carve your (expletive) heart out,” using slurs against African-Americans, Jewish people and others.
The caller threatened to show up at a VA center in the Bay Area armed with an assault rifle and randomly shoot people. For a while, workers at VA centers across the region were concerned that a Yountville copycat shooting could be around the corner, according to court records.
Eventually, the threats were traced back to a man named Ronald Joseph Lafaye, a U.S. Navy veteran who prosecutors say has a 20-year history — including multiple convictions — of threatening people. As prosecutors were bringing a federal case against Lafaye for the VA threats, there was a simultaneous state case against him for making threats to kill staffers at U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier's office, authorities say.
Last week, Lafaye was sentenced to two years and four months in prison for the VA threats. Combined with his state prison sentence, he will serve a total of 10 years. Last year, he was sentenced to seven years and eight months in state prison for the threats on Speier's staffers, court records show.
In a sentencing memo asking for 41 months, assistant U.S. Attorney Alexandra Shepard wrote that Lafaye had, “threatened a mass shooting, at a time when society can longer safely assume that these are idle threats.” The threats were made in person and on the phone, Shepard wrote.
“He threatened to assault and kill three VA officials, threatened their children, spit in one of their faces, and cautioned them to practice their active shooter drills because he was going to come back to a VA facility with an assault rifle and kill people,” Shepard wrote. “Lafaye's threats affected one of the victims enough that they declined to speak at the hearing or even submit a written Victim Impact Statement, out of concern that it would aggravate Lafaye even further.”
Lafaye's attorney, assistant federal public defender Candis Mitchell, wrote that Lafaye was the product of a “horrific” childhood that included extreme levels of abuse. Mitchell said Lafaye's intent was to speak out on behalf of veterans who he felt were ignored or neglected by the VA system.
“These statements and his actions were not the actions of a rational man guided by rational thoughts—but rather reflect the sum totals of a lifetime of trauma coupled with an ill-conceived attempt to make the lives of others better,” Mitchell wrote, adding that Lafaye has battled alcoholism since he was a teenager.
Mitchell also quoted a medical professional who wrote that Lafaye has a “delusional disorder,” and included a brief statement from Lafaye where he admitted to sometimes having poor impulse control.
“I get on a roll, I can't shake it. All the inhibitions go because of my background. I have to retrain myself,” Lafaye said, according to Mitchell's sentencing memo.
©2020 the Palo Alto Daily News (Menlo Park, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.