, Calif. (AP) — An employee at a California
rail yard opened fire on Wednesday, killing eight people
before taking his own life as law enforcement rushed in, authorities said, the latest attack
in a year that has seen a sharp increase in mass killings as the country emerges from coronavirus
The shooting occurred around 6:30 a.m. in two buildings at the Valley Transportation Authority
's light rail facility, which provides bus, light rail, and other transit services throughout Santa Clara County, the most populous county in the San Francisco
“When our deputies went through the door, he was still firing rounds, and when our deputy saw him, he took his life,” Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith told reporters, adding that deputies “were going through hallways saying, ‘Sheriff’s office!’ He knew at that time that his time for firing shots was over.”
The victims have been identified as Paul Delacruz Megia, 42; Taptejdeep Singh, 36; Adrian Balleza, 29; Jose Dejesus Hernandez, 35; Timothy Michael Romo, 49; Michael Joseph Rudometkin, 40; Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, 63; and Lars Kepler Lane, 63, by the Santa Clara County coroner's office on Wednesday night.
They worked as bus and light rail operators, mechanics, linemen, and assistant superintendents, and one had been with the transit authority since 1999.
Singh had been a light rail train driver for eight or nine years, with a wife, two small children
, and a large family, according to his cousin, Bagga Singh.
“We heard that he chose the people to shoot, but I don’t know why they chose him because he has nothing to do with him,” he said, adding that he had been told that the gunman targeted certain people while allowing others to flee.
“There are no words to describe the heartache we are feeling right now, especially for his family,” San Jose City Councilman Raul Peralez said on Facebook
. “Eight families are feeling this same sense of loss tonight, and our entire community is mourning as well.”
According to two law enforcement officials, the attacker was identified as 57-year-old Sam Cassidy, and no word on a possible motive has been released.
Cassidy's ex-wife, Cecilia Nelms, told The Associated Press
that he had a bad temper and would tell her that he wanted to kill people at work, "but I never believed him, and it never happened, until now."
Nelms, teary-eyed and shaken by the news, said her ex-husband would come home wound up and angry about things that happened at work, and as he talked about it, “he would get more mad.”
Nelms admitted that she was scared when Cassidy lost his temper because he was someone who could physically harm others.
Nelms stated that they had been married for ten years — Cassidy filed for divorce
in 2005 — and had not communicated for 13 years, during which time he had been treated for depression.
According to San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, members of a union representing Valley Transportation Authority employees were meeting when the shooting began, but it is unclear whether the meeting was related to the attack.
Rochelle Hawkins, a transit authority mechanic, said she dropped her phone when she heard shots fired.
“I was running so fast. I was just running for my life,” she said, adding, “I would hope that everyone would just pray for the VTA family, just pray for us.”
and family members were waiting for word after being unable to contact their loved ones via phone or text message; some had tracked the missing person's cellphone to the rail yard but had received no information from authorities.
Deputy Russell Davis, a sheriff's spokesman, said he didn't know what weapon was used in the attack.
As bomb squads searched the rail complex, Davis said, officials were also looking into a house
fire that broke out shortly before the shooting. According to public records, Cassidy owned the two-story home where firefighters responded after being notified by a passer-by. Law enforcement officers cordoned off the area near the home and went in and out Wednesday.
Doug Suh, who lives across the street, told The Mercury News in San Jose that Cassidy seemed "strange" and that he had never seen anyone visit.
“I’d say hello, and he’d just look at me without saying anything,” Suh said, adding that Cassidy once yelled at him to stay away while he was backing up his car. “After that, I never talked to him again.”
According to the public payroll and pension database Transparent California, Cassidy had worked for Valley Transportation Authority since at least 2012, first as a mechanic from 2012 to 2014, then as a substation maintenance worker.
In an emotional speech in front of a county office where flags were flown at half-staff, Gov. Gavin Newsom
said victims' relatives were "waiting to hear from the coroner, waiting to hear from any of us, just desperate to find out if their brother, son, father, mother is still alive."
“It begs the question, ‘What in the world is going on in the United States
Joy Alexiou, a spokesperson for Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, said another man injured in the attack was in critical condition.
The bloodshed comes amid an increase in mass killings following the closure of many public places and confinement of people to their homes by the pandemic
According to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today, and Northeastern University that tracks every mass killing over the last 15 years, the San Jose attack is the 15th mass killing in 2021, with all of them being shootings
The database defines mass killings as four or more people killed, not including the shooter, so the overall toll of gun violence
is much higher when smaller incidents are included.
President Joe Biden
ordered flags to be flown at half-staff and urged Congress
to pass gun-control legislation.
“Every life taken by a bullet pierces the soul of our country, and we can and must do more,” Biden said in a statement.
San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the United States, has a population of over a million people and is located in the heart of Silicon Valley, approximately 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of San Francisco.
When the shooting occurred, trains
were already on their morning runs, and light rail service was suspended and replaced with bus bridges.
The attack on Wednesday was Santa Clara County's second mass shooting
in less than two years, following a gunman's killing of three people and then himself in July 2019 at a popular garlic festival in Gilroy.
The Gilroy attack was on Mayor Liccardo's mind Wednesday, as text messages
reporting the shooting and fire flooded in.
“Not again,” he thought as he jumped in his car and sped to City Hall, where he was greeted by transit authority employees who said they knew Cassidy.
“You try to understand what possessed someone to do that much harm,” Liccardo said over the phone.
This article was contributed to by Associated Press writers Janie Har in San Francisco, John Antczak and Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles
, and Michael Balsamo and Colleen Long in Washington.