SAN JOSE – In one of the Bay Area’s worst mass shootings, a Valley Transportation Authority employee known for nursing grievances and a hot temper opened fire early Wednesday morning at a VTA light rail yard building, killing eight people and wounding others before taking his own life, authorities said.
Rochelle Hawkins, a VTA mechanic, said when she heard shots she dropped her phone.
“I was running so fast, I just ran for my life,” she said. “I would hope everyone would just pray for the VTA family. Just pray for us.”
The gunman was identified by multiple sources as Samuel Cassidy, a 57-year-old VTA maintenance worker. Authorities would not say what might have led to the rampage, what type of weapon was used or whether he obtained it legally.
Sheriff Laurie Smith, whose office headquarters are near the rail yard, said deputies entered the building as shots were still being fired, but did not exchange gunfire with the gunman.
“We have some very brave officers and deputies,” Smith said.
There was a heavy police presence at Cassidy’s house in San Jose, where a fire erupted before the shooting and was reported shortly after. Bomb squad technicians were at the scene throughout the day. Authorities would not say how the fire might have started.
Explosive devices also were reported in the VTA building, and bomb dogs were brought in, Smith said.
About 100 VTA workers, mostly men and some family members, were escorted from the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Office to a larger auditorium across the street in the county administration. Inside the auditorium, screams and wailing broke out.
Workers said they were told not to talk to news reporters, but one worker said he was shaken to the core.
“The whole crew is gone, the whole shift is gone,” the worker, who didn’t want to be identified, said. “It’s horrible.”
Another VTA worker who didn’t want to be identified said that a woman had just learned her son was one of the fatalities.
“I just witnessed someone’s mom who just found out her son died,” the VTA worker said. “It was ugly.”
President Joe Biden also was briefed, and later called on Congress “to help end this epidemic of gun violence in America.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom visited San Jose in the afternoon and had similar remarks.
“There’s a sameness to this, and a numbness I think is something we’re all feeling,” Newsom said in San Jose. “It begs the damn question, ‘What the hell is going on in the United States of America?’”
What the Associated Press counted as the 15th U.S. mass shooting this year renewed cries for more laws to reduce gun violence. Among others were eight people fatally shot April 15 by a former employee at an Indianapolis FedEx facility, a former NFL player who shot six people April 7 in Rock Hill, South Carolina, a gunman who killed 10 on March 22 in Boulder, Colorado, and another shooter who killed eight on March 16 at three Atlanta-area massage businesses.
The massacre ranks among the region’s worst mass shootings, leaving as many dead as the July 1993 mayhem 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.
California has a “red flag” law that lets family members and law enforcement ask a judge to temporarily confiscate guns from a threatening person. 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.
But there were no immediate indications of home or workplace strife that might have triggered the deadly rampage. Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said Wednesday he does not believe the law was used in regard to the VTA shooter.
“It only takes one incident,” Rosen said. “We have to be perfect to stop all of these killings and we try our very best.”
One worker who sat sobbing on the phone with his wife afterward said he knew of no bad feelings among coworkers.
“I come to work and have a good time and enjoy my job,” he said.
Even so, Cassidy’s dark side unnerved those around him.
Cassidy’s former wife, Cecilia Nelms of Santa Cruz, who was married to him for 10 years but hasn’t seen him in 13, said he had a mercurial temper. She said he complained some coworkers got easier assignments than he did and resented that his father paid for his sister’s education while he worked to become a mechanic on his own. But she never knew Cassidy to have guns, and struggled to connect the man she knew with a mass shooting.
In 2009, Cassidy filed for a domestic violence restraining order against an ex-girlfriend, alleging harassment, and she in turn filed a response accusing him of rape, sexual assault and “enraged” mood swings fueled by alcohol abuse.
Doug Suh, who lives across the street from Cassidy, described him as “lonely” and “strange” and said he never saw friends or family visit.
“I’d say hello and he’d just look at me without saying anything,” Suh said. “One day I was backing out of his driveway and he yelled at me, ‘Don’t even go on my driveway!’ After that, I never talked to him again.”
The reported shooting first reported at 6:34 a.m. occurred in the rail yard area in the 100 block of W. Younger Avenue and San Pedro Street.