Santa Clara County Sheriff’s deputies, San Jose police responded to scene
The eight people killed by a gunman at a Northern California rail yard Wednesday morning were shot in two separate buildings before the suspected shooter took his own life, authorities said Wednesday.
Santa Clara Sheriff Laurie Smith expressed her grief for the families of the victims before praising the quick response of law enforcement officers who went into a Valley Transportation Authority building as the active shooting was happening. She said deputies and San Jose police officers were the first on the scene.
“They took their life [sic] in their hands and I know for sure that when the suspect knew that law enforcement was there, he took his own life,” she said. “Our deputies were right there at that time.”
Santa Clara Sheriff’s deputies responded to the massive VTA facility after receiving reports of shots fired around 6:30 a.m., sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Russell Davis told reporters at an afternoon news conference. Authorities arrived within minutes of the reports.
Authorities are still working to identify the victims. One person was taken to a hospital and remains in critical condition.
The suspect was identified Wednesday as Samuel Cassidy, 57, who was a VTA employee, officials said. No motive is known for the shooting at this time.
An ex-girlfriend told the San Francisco Chronicle he was prone to alcohol-fueled mood swings and had been accused in a March 2009 court filing of rape and abuse. The documents were filed in response to a domestic violence restraining order that Cassidy had filed earlier that month.
The former girlfriend alleged his mood swings worsened when he drank alcohol and that he played “several mind games which he seems to enjoy.” She listed several incidents of alleged sexual assault in which he would hold her arms and force his weight onto her.
He would apologize and promised to never do it again afterward, the report said.
The shooting took place at a light rail facility that is next door to the sheriff’s department headquarters and across a freeway from the airport. The facility is a transit control center that stores trains and has a maintenance yard. It’s also located just two blocks from county buildings, the main jail and a courthouse.
Davis said deputies did not exchange gunfire with the suspect, leading investigators to assume he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was not sure what kind of weapon was used. He said authorities received reports of explosive devices inside a building at the VTA control center.
In a Tuesday evening news release, the sheriff’s office said explosive ordinance detection K-9s found several “possible suspicious devices” on the VTA property. The Sheriff’s bomb squad unit responded and rendered the scene safe.
A bomb squad responded to the scene but there was no danger to the community, Davis said. Processing the crime scene could take several days.
An investigation is also underway of an arson fire at what is believed to be the nearby home of the suspect. FBI agents and the San Jose Fire Department were at the second scene. Authorities say the house caught fire before the shooting.
Special agents from the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were also responding to the crime scene, officials said.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, commented on the number of mass shootings that have occurred nationwide in recent years.
“There’s numbness I imagine some of us are feeling about this because there’s a sameness to this,” he said. “Anywhere USA. It just feels like this happens over and over and over again. Rinse and repeat.”
In Washington, DC, principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the White House will continue to stay in close contact with local officials in San Jose, before using the shooting as an opportunity to call for Congress to strengthen background checks.
“The White House is monitoring the situation, and our hearts go out to the victims and their families,” Jean-Pierre said. “We still don’t have all the details, but what is clear, as the president has said, is that we are suffering from an epidemic of gun violence in this country, both in mass shootings and in the lives that are being taken in daily gun violence that doesn’t make national headlines.”
VTA Chair Gel Hendricks said light rail service would be suspended for possibly several days. The agency will set up bus bridges to help customers get around.
“It’s just very difficult for everyone to be able try to wrap their heads around and understand what has happened,” Hendricks said at an earlier news conference.
“These folks were heroes during COVID-19, the buses never stopped running, VTA didn’t stop running. They just kept at work, and now we’re really calling on them to be heroes a second time to survive such a terrible, terrible tragedy,” Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez added.
The VTA provides bus, light rail and other transit services throughout Santa Clara County, the largest in the Bay Area and home to Silicon Valley.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said a vigil will be held at City Hall at 6 p.m. Thursday.
“Our hearts are broken,” he said. “These are the women and men who supported our community through this pandemic. They showed up everyday as essential workers despite risks to their own health.”
Liccardo said the sheriff’s office set up a reunification center for families at a county building at 70 Hedding St., near First Street.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.