Nine dead in San Jose VTA shooting; light rail service suspended
VTA Board of Directors Chairperson Glenn Hendricks at a May 26 press conference following a mass shooting at a light rail yard. Photo by Vicente Vera.

    San Jose officials are reeling after a mass shooting Wednesday morning left nine people dead before the shooter — who was a VTA employee — turned the gun on himself. Light rail service was suspended at noon.

    “A horrible tragedy has happened today and our thoughts and love goes out to the VTA family, the organization and what they’ve had to go through,” said Glenn Hendricks, chairperson of the VTA Board of Directors.

    Reports of a shooting during a union meeting at the Guadalupe Light Rail Yard at 100 West Younger Avenue in downtown San Jose came in a few minutes after 6:30 a.m. Law enforcement confirmed eight people died during the shooting. A ninth victim died later at the hospital. The investigation is still active and is receiving assistance from the San Francisco branch of the FBI.

    The shooter, identified as 57-year-old VTA technician Samuel Cassidy, is also dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

    Cassidy has been described by friends and acquaintances as a “loner” who had become increasingly disgruntled with work in recent years. The motive for the shooting is unclear.

    The Santa Clara County Medical Examiner identified the nine victims late Wednesday.

    VTA spokesperson Stacey Handler Ross told San José Spotlight the shooting occurred inside a building at the rail yard.

    “This is a horrific, tragic situation and our hearts go out to all of our employees who were affected and involved,” Ross said, “and all the families of those employees. VTA is 2,100 employees, but it’s a family. We’re very close.” 

    At a news conference Wednesday, Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Russell Davis said law enforcement received reports of explosive devices in the building. The bomb squad is currently searching for suspicious devices.

    San Jose Police Chief Anthony Mata said more than 40 employees were present at the time of the shooting.

    VTA is securing the rest of its facilities, including three bus yards and its headquarters. Out of an abundance of caution, security teams are also sweeping all VTA facilities with bomb-sniffing dogs.

    Law enforcement at the scene of a mass shooting at a VTA light rail yard on May 26. Photo by Vicente Vera.

    By Wednesday afternoon, the reality had set in that San Jose’s name will be added to the growing list of cities with mass shootings.

    Gov. Gavin Newsom, who made a stop in San Jose to show support, said people are feeling numb to another mass shooting in America.

    “It feels like this happens over and over again, rinse and repeat,” said Newsom, adding that it wasn’t long ago that he spoke about the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting in 2019. “What the hell is going on in the United States of America? What the hell is going on with us… When are we going to put down our arms literally and figuratively?”

    President Joe Biden also tweeted about the shooting Wednesday, saying he is awaiting details about the tragedy.

    “There are at least (nine) families who will never be whole again,” the president wrote. “Every life taken by a bullet pierces the soul of our nation. We must do more.”

    Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks about the mass shooting at a VTA rail yard in San Jose. Photo by Vicente Vera.

    While light rail service is suspended, Hendricks said additional buses will be put in place to continue service.

    “We’re so sorry this event happened,” Hendricks said. “VTA is in the process of getting grief counselors in place. VTA is a family. People in the organization know everyone. This is a terrible tragedy and we will do everything we can to help people get through this.”

    Grief counselors were available earlier at the Reunification Center at 70 West Hedding where many of the employees who were at the light rail yard during the shooting went to be reunited with their families.

    In recent months, tensions between the union for VTA employees, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 265, and the transit agency’s management have been rising.

    Union officials accused managers of not protecting VTA drivers and operators during the pandemic. The union had pushed for rear-door boarding amid a steep rise in COVID-19 cases among VTA workers and demanded support enforcing the mask mandate on its vehicles.

    Recently, VTA announced it would reduce a 6-foot social distancing rule to 3 feet. Union heads said the distancing rules decreased capacity by 80-90% and resulted in up to 800 customer pass ups each day.

    Union leaders, including those from SEIU 521 which represents 24o VTA workers, said they are saddened and shocked by the tragedy.

    “SEIU Local 521 members and leadership send our unwavering love and support to the victims and families of those impacted by today’s senseless eruption of gun violence,” said Riko Mendez and Tammy Dhanota. “There simply is no excuse for this or any form of violence towards essential workers or residents. VTA workers are calling on our residents to come together and heal one another in light of this heinous attack.”

    Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman said Wednesday he ordered the flags to be lowered to half-mast to honor those who died.

    Supervisor Cindy Chavez said her heart is broken for families affected by the shooting.

    “These folks were heroes during COVID-19. The buses never stopped running,” she said. “Now we’re calling on them to be heroes a second time, to survive such a terrible tragedy.”

    San Jose Councilmember Raul Peralez called the shooting tragic and said waking up to hear about it was “devastating.”

    “It personally hits close to home for me,” he said. “I have a friend, I’m still waiting on his status.”

    He said they’ve been close friends since middle school.

    “When an incident like this happens here close to home, that affects us so much more deeply because of the individuals we know, we love, we work with are friends and loved ones,” Peralez said. “It’s just extremely tragic.”

    San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said at a news conference about the VTA mass shooting that the city will do everything possible to prevent future tragedies. Photo by Vicente Vera.

    San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who also serves on the VTA board, said the city is in a dark moment, but that he’s heartened to see the response of VTA workers coming together to help each other.

    “We’re going to do everything we can to support the families who lost their loved ones, and I’m grateful for the immediate response of law enforcement led by the Sheriff’s Office,” he said.

    State Sen. Dave Cortese, who represents San Jose, issued a statement regarding the mass shooting.

    “There are no words that capture the grief and loss being felt by our community today,” Cortese said. “My deepest condolences and prayers are with the victims of today’s senseless and tragic shooting as well as their families, and I offer my support to them in any way I can. Our mass shooting epidemic continues to give rise to unimaginable heartbreak and loss.”

    Congressman Ro Khanna used the tragedy Wednesday to highlight growing gun violence in the country and demand tighter gun control policies.

    “While much still remains to be confirmed at this time, one thing is abundantly clear: the gun violence epidemic will continue to rage unless we take concrete action to protect our country,” Khanna said. “It was our community today, but it will be someone else’s tomorrow. My heart is shattered thinking of the lives lost, as well as the families & communities upended by this senseless tragedy. These were some of our frontline heroes, who kept the South Bay moving through the worst of the pandemic. Over 80% of Americans want common sense gun control measures. Background checks, ‘red flag’ laws and longer waiting periods are all within reach. When I head back to Washington, I will continue to push for this urgently needed legislation.”

    The mass shooting comes days after the VTA announced hiring a new CEO, Carolyn Gonot, and committed to restoring service cuts it faced due to a decline in ridership and a budget deficit.

    “Our hearts and prayers are with our sisters, brothers and their families,” said Amalgamated Transit Union International President John A. Costa on Wednesday. “We are working to provide support and assistance to the victims’ families and everyone impacted by this tragic event.”

    To learn how you can help the victims of Wednesday’s mass shooting, click here.

    Contact Nick Preciado at [email protected] Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected] Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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