Victims in San Jose mass shooting may have been targeted, sheriff says
A witness to Samuel Cassidy’s deadly rail yard shooting says the gunman appeared to target certain people: ‘He had a specific agenda.’
As the city of San Jose prepares a vigil for the nine victims of a mass shooting, new details have emerged about the moments leading up to their deaths.
New reports have revealed that the shooter may have targeted the victims, who ranged in age from 29 to 63. They were found in two buildings at the Valley Transit Authority on Wednesday.
The gunman set his own house on fire before driving to a union meeting at the VTA facility and shooting, authorities said.
“It appears to us at this point that he said to one of the people there: ‘I’m not going to shoot you,’” Santa Clara Sheriff Laurie Smith told the Associated Press on Thursday. “And then he shot other people. So I imagine there was some kind of thought on who he wanted to shoot.”
One witness said the shooter “had a list of people that he was going to kill yesterday.”
“He shot some people, he let another person live, and then he went around and shot everybody again,” said Kirk Bertolet, 64, who has worked for the VTA for 12 years and was on duty during the shooting Wednesday.
Bertolet said the gunman, who has been identified as Samuel Cassidy, 57, then “cooly waked by some people coming out of the other building ... then he walked in that building and found his targets over there. He killed the people he wanted to kill.”
Smith told the “Today” show that Cassidy, who had been employed at the VTA for at least eight years, was “very deliberate, very fast” during the shooting rampage.
Officials initially said he was found with two semiautomatic handguns and 32 loaded magazines, but later updated that number to three guns. Smith told the AP that he fired 39 shots and that the 9mm handguns he had appeared to be legal, although the high-capacity magazines, which hold 12 rounds, are illegal in California.
Cassidy’s ex-wife, Cecilia Nelms, said he had talked about killing people at work more than a decade ago.
“I never believed him, and it never happened. Until now,” she told the AP after the attack.
According to a discussion message that circulated inside the Department of Homeland Security after the shooting, Cassidy was searched and questioned by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2016 when returning from the Philippines, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal. Officers found materials in his bags that included writings about his hatred of his employer.
DHS officials on Thursday declined to comment on the information gathered before the shooting. It is unclear whether the information gathered in the 2016 search was conveyed to other federal or local agencies at the time.
The violence Wednesday, which has been described as a workplace dispute, left the city reeling as the community mourned the victims and demanded answers about what happened.
The victims who died at the scene have been identified 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. One victim, Alex Ward Fritch, 49, died at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
Authorities are still searching for a motive in the shooting, although early indications point to a work-related issue for a man with a troubled past.
Authorities were investigating the timing of the attack. The first 911 calls about the shooting came in at 6:34 a.m. Wednesday. Three minutes later, a fire was reported at Cassidy’s home on Angmar Court, eight miles away.
Smith said officials are operating under the assumption that he acted alone and “set some kind of device to go off [to set fire to his house] at a certain time, probably to coincide with his shooting,” although she noted that thinking may change as the investigation continues.
Deputy Russell Davis said Thursday that investigators were working on getting a search warrant for Cassidy’s house, which was heavily damaged by the fire.
“We’re going to use everything we can and grab all the evidence we can,” he said.
Bomb-sniffing dogs at the rail yard also found bomb-making materials in what is presumed to be Cassidy’s locker, including detonator cords and “the precursors to an explosive,” Smith said.
Russell said officials are working to determine a motive.
“Based on recent developments in the investigation, we can say that the suspect has been a highly disgruntled VTA employee for many years, which may have contributed to why he targeted VTA employees,” he said.
John Courtney, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 265 — one of four unions that represent VTA workers — said on Facebook that he was shocked and deeply saddened by the news. He added that the union was working to provide support and assistance to victims’ families and others affected by the shooting.
Courtney also described stressful working conditions at the agency. In a news release issued before the shooting, Courtney said there was tension over the reduction of social distancing guidelines and expressed concerns that workers had not received hazard or hero compensation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bertolet said the VTA is composed of “blue-collar workers” who were often tough on one another.
He said he believed Cassidy snapped because of treatment on the job.
“He killed his lead and the other people in his chain of command,” he said. “I guess whatever conflicts, whatever animosity he had toward those people, he took it out on them yesterday.”
During a news briefing Thursday, board members and officials with the VTA expressed shock and sadness.
“Words are not enough to justify the pain we are going through,” said VTA light rail transportation Supt. Naunihal Singh. “I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m lost for words. At the same time trying to find reasons why.”
Singh also said it showed the character of his co-workers that they tried to save others during the attack. The family of one victim, Taptejdeep Singh, said he helped fellow workers hide before being shot.
San Jose City Councilman Raul Peralez spoke as both a VTA board member and a friend of one of the victims, Rudometkin.
“Personally, my heart is broken,” he said. “And honestly, it’s going to take a lot of time — not for me, but for all of us — to be able to heal.”
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said on Twitter that a vigil for the victims will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at City Hall Plaza.
“This is a moment for us to come together and grieve,” he said.
Caltrain will be offering free transportation to the vigil, City Councilwoman Dev Davis said.
The gunman set his own house on fire before driving to a union meeting at the VTA facility and opening fire, authorities said.
Cassidy was known to neighbors as a “very strange, very quiet” guy in his working-class neighborhood, said Ramon Crescini, 64, a retired general contractor who lives several doors down.
He was divorced more than a decade ago. Nelms, his ex-wife, told the Mercury News that he had a mercurial temper and often complained that co-workers and family members had easier lives than he did.
In April 2009, Cassidy was granted a restraining order he sought against a 45-year-old former girlfriend, whom The Times is not naming because she is the victim of an alleged sexual assault.
In an interview with KRON-TV early Thursday, Smith said Cassidy took his own life when deputies confronted him. Officials on Wednesday said they did not exchange gunfire with him.
“He’s a coward. He took a cowardly act,” Smith said.
At a news briefing Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said there is a “sameness and a numbness to these incidents” after meeting with family members of the victims. He asked when the violence will stop.
“What the hell’s going on in the United States of America?” Newsom asked. “What the hell’s wrong with us? … When are we going to put down our arms, literally and figuratively?”
Speaking to the “Today” show, Smith expressed similar disbelief.
“What in the world could possibly prompt someone to take this kind of action, we don’t know at this point,” she said.
Times staff writers Maura Dolan and Maria La Ganga contributed to this report.
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