A Valley Transportation Authority worker known for a hot temper and nursing grievances opened fire on his coworkers at a light rail facility in San Jose on Wednesday, killing eight before turning the gun on himself as authorities closed in.
Law enforcement sources identified Samuel James Cassidy, a 57-year-old VTA maintenance worker, as the gunman in the deadliest mass shooting in the Bay Area in nearly three decades. Another victim was in critical condition at Valley Medical Center on Wednesday afternoon, and others were wounded as well.
The early morning tragedy, the 15th massacre in the U.S. this year, drew pained reactions from Gov. Gavin Newsom and President Joe Biden and renewed national calls for tightened gun control laws that have been stymied after earlier incidents.
Bomb squads spent much of the day methodically combing the sprawling VTA Guadalupe Yard on West Younger Avenue searching for explosives. They did the same at a South San Jose home where records show Cassidy lived and where a two-alarm fire broke out around the time of the shooting.
Law enforcement officials revealed few details Wednesday about what happened during the shooting, which began around 6:30 a.m., including whether Cassidy specifically targeted his victims and what kind of weapon he used. Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office identified the dead as Paul Delacruz Megia, 42; Taptejdeep Singh, 36; Adrian Balleza, 29; Jose Dejesus Hernandez III, 35; Timothy Michael Romo, 49; Michael Joseph Rudometkin, 40; Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, 63; and Lars Kepler Lane, 63.
Witnesses described hearing a gunman fire shots as he moved through the complex and watching as terrified colleagues scattered for safety. The yard, which houses maintenance shops and a control center, is at its busiest in the early morning hours as light rail service begins.
“I was running so fast, I just ran for my life,” said Rochelle Hawkins, a VTA mechanic. “I would hope everyone would just pray for the VTA family. Just pray for us.”
Another worker, who did not want to be identified, said, “The whole crew is gone. The whole shift is gone.”
A grimly familiar process unfolded from there.
Scores of VTA workers who survived were taken to a nearby county administration building to be reunited with loved ones, some of whom would learn that their family members had been killed. Others anxiously waited for news after countless phone calls to friends and loved ones went unanswered.
Law enforcement leaders praised the sheriff’s deputies and police officers who ran into the VTA complex while the shooting was underway and, authorities said, helped limit the death toll.
Fundraisers began for the victims and their loved ones. And public officials offered condolences as they decried the latest in a pandemic of mass gun violence in this country.
“There is a numbness I imagine some of us are feeling about this,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday afternoon. “It begs the damn question: What the hell is going on in the United States of America?”
In a written statement, President Joe Biden reflected upon “the solemn duty yet again of ordering the flag to be lowered at half-staff” after a mass shooting.
“Enough,” Biden said. “Once again, I urge Congress to take immediate action and heed the call of the American people, including the vast majority of gun owners, to help end this epidemic of gun violence in America.”
Gunfire broke out as day began
The Guadalupe Yard is a sprawling North San Jose facility with multiple industrial buildings, rows of train tracks and dozens of light rail vehicles that sits just across Interstate 880 from Mineta International Airport. The complex is a block from the headquarters of the Santa Clara County Sheriff.
Footage from a neighbor’s security camera showed Cassidy left his home at 5:39 a.m. Wednesday, dressed in a work jumpsuit and carrying a large black duffel bag that he put on the passenger seat of his white Ford F-150 pickup truck.
The first 9-1-1 calls about the shooting came in at 6:34 a.m.
Authorities have not disclosed what Cassidy, who worked as a substation maintainer and mechanic, was doing in the moments that led up to the shooting, what if any motive he may have had or where in the complex shots were fired. Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith confirmed at a press conference that people were shot in two buildings.
First responders in radio transmissions from the scene reported they found some victims in the complex’s Building B, near the western end of the yard.
Another VTA employee, who declined to be identified, said he was working in Building A, the three-story building that is the largest in the facility, when he heard the sound of gunfire coming from outside and saw workers scattering across the yard. Moments later, he heard at least one gunshot that sounded like it was coming from inside his building.
Law enforcement officers could hear gunfire as they arrived at the scene, according to radio transmissions, and dispatchers reported the gunman was believed to be on the third floor of a building. Smith said deputies did not fire their weapons.
“When the suspect knew that law enforcement was there, he took his own life,” Smith said.
About 100 VTA workers were escorted after the shooting to an auditorium in the nearby county administration building. Family members endured hours-long waits to find out whether their loved ones were safe. Inside the auditorium, screams and wailing broke out.
“I just witnessed someone’s mom who just found out her son died,” a VTA worker said. “It was ugly.”
Family members said that Taptejdeep Singh, 36, a light rail operator married with two small children, was gunned down in a stairwell. Coworkers told them that Singh had left the safety of an office where others were hunkered down to help others escape.
“We are in very deep grief,” said his uncle, Sakhwant Dhillon. “He told people, ‘Be careful, hide.’ He was running around the building to save others’ lives.”
As federal and local authorities investigated the shooting scene, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office said bomb-sniffing dogs alerted them to the possibility of explosives, prompting a room-to-room search of the light rail yard. The scene was later declared safe.
Two minutes after the shooting began, authorities also received a report from a passerby of a fire at a home that belongs to Cassidy on Angmar Court, about 8 miles from the VTA yard. Authorities, who believe the fire started before the shooting, did not disclose its cause, but bomb squad technicians were at the scene of the fire throughout the day as well.
Another fire, in an industrial area on Smith Avenue between Cassidy’s home and the VTA yard, was also reported around 6:30 a.m. It was unclear if the fire had any connection to the shooting or to the Angmar Court blaze.
Shooter left troubled trail but didn’t trigger ‘red flag’ laws
Cassidy had a mercurial temper and complained about his assignments at work, according to his former wife, Cecilia Nelms, of Santa Cruz, who was married to him for 10 years but hasn’t seen him in 13.
“He had two sides,” Nelms said Wednesday. “When he was in a good mood, he was a great guy. When he was mad, he was mad.”
In 2009, Cassidy filed for a domestic violence restraining order against another woman, his ex-girlfriend, alleging harassment. She in turn filed a response accusing him of sexual assault and “enraged” mood swings fueled by alcohol abuse.
California has a “red flag” law that lets family members and law enforcement ask a judge to temporarily confiscate guns from a potentially dangerous person who could pose a threat to others. Legislation by Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, expanded the “gun violence restraining order” law in September to allow employers and coworkers also to make such requests.
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said Wednesday he does not believe the law was used in regard to the VTA shooter. Authorities did not say how Cassidy acquired the gun he used in the shooting or whether it was purchased legally.
The massacre ranks among the Bay Area’s deadliest, leaving as many dead as the July 1993 shooting at a 101 California Street law firm in San Francisco by a disgruntled client who also took his own life — a horror that inspired a since-expired federal ban on military style firearms.
It is also the third mass shooting in Santa Clara County since 2019: A man killed four people before taking his own life at a San Jose home in June of that year, and a man fatally shot three people at the Gilroy Garlic Festival the following August before killing himself.
Shooting targeted essential workers
With the light rail yard now the scene of the shooting investigation, VTA leaders suspended service on the system at noon Wednesday, replacing its trains with bus service. Glenn Hendricks, the chairman of the authority’s board, said the three-line light rail system would likely remain out of service “for several days.”
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo was among those who noted the shooting targeted essential transit workers who had continued to do their jobs in person through last year’s pandemic lockdowns, despite the risk to themselves. Two VTA workers died from COVID-19 over the past year.
“These are the women and men who supported our community through this pandemic — they showed up at work every day as essential workers, despite risks to their own health,” Liccardo said. “We owe them and their families so much.”
Tributes also poured in Wednesday from other public transportation agencies and transit worker unions.
“This is unspeakable,” said Raj Singh, the recording and financial secretary for Amalgamated Transit Union local 265, which represents nearly 1,600 VTA employees. “You hear about it happening somewhere else, and you think never here.”
The local’s president, John Courtney, was at the Guadalupe Yard during the shooting but declined an interview request out of respect for the victims. A tweet from the local’s account Wednesday morning read, “PRAY.”
Staff writers Maggie Angst, Ethan Baron, Aldo Toledo, Emily DeRuy, David DeBolt and Kate Selig contributed to this story.
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