SAN JOSE — In one of the Bay Area’s worst mass shootings, a Valley Transportation Authority employee 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.
Sheriff Laurie Smith, whose office headquarters are near the rail yard, said deputies entered the building as shots were still being fired.
“We have some very brave officers and deputies,” Smith said
The gunman was identified by multiple sources as Samuel Cassidy, a 57-year-old VTA maintenance worker. What motivated the massacre remains unknown.
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.
California has a “red flag” law that lets family members and law enforcement ask a judge to temporarily confiscate guns from a person acting in a threatening manner. Legislation by Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, expanded the “gun violence restraining order” law in September to allow employers and coworkers to also petition to disarm a threatening person. Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said Wednesday he does not believe the law was used in regard to the VTA shooter.
Explosive devices also were reported in the VTA building, and bomb dogs alerted to the devices, Smith said. Bomb squads were there as well.
About 100 VTA workers, mostly men and some family members, were escorted from the Sheriff’s Office to a larger auditorium across the street in the county administration. Inside the auditorium, screams and wailing broke out.
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 as she led the meeting. “I would hope everyone would just pray for the VTA family. Just pray for us.”
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.”
Governor Gavin Newsom said in a Tweet that his office was “in close contact with local law enforcement and monitoring this situation closely.”
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.
The reported shooting first reported at 6:34 a.m. occurred in the area of the 100 block of W. Younger Avenue and San Pedro Street.
Deputies currently on scene for an active shooter investigation in the area of 100 W. Younger Ave. SJ. Please stay away from the area. More info to follow.
— SantaClaraCoSheriff (@SCCoSheriff) May 26, 2021
According to Sheriff’s Office spokesman Russell Davis, some of the shooting victims are VTA employees. KTVU reported that it spoke to the mother of an employee who reported that the shooting happened at a union meeting. It was not known immediately if the shooting happened inside or outside, Davis said.
The VTA provides bus, light rail, and paratransit services and is a funding partner in regional rail service including Caltrain, Capital Corridor, and the Altamont Corridor Express. The mass shooting occurred in the VTA maintenance yard, where vehicles are dispatched — not in the organization’s operations center, according to the board chair. The VTA will suspend its light rail service at noon today, but continue bus service.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said on Twitter just after 8 a.m. that several people were being treated. Liccardo also said the “shooter is no longer a threat” and that the facility was evacuated. Liccardo
said later that the city is in a “very dark moment,” but that he is “heartened by the response of the
VTA family to come together and help their coworkers.”
A shooting at the VTA facility on Younger St has left several people being treated, but the situation is still being assessed. The shooter is no longer a threat, and the facility has been evacuated. I will update as more information becomes available.
— Sam Liccardo (@sliccardo) May 26, 2021
One VTA employee who did not want to be identified said workers were told, “Run outside the building now! There’s an active shooter!” Another said he saw people scattering around the maintenance yard as shots rang out.
Rochelle Hawkins said when she heard shots she dropped her phone. “I was running so fast. I just ran for my life,” said Rochelle, wearing her mechanic’s uniform as she led the meeting.”I would hope everyone would just pray for the VTA family. Just pray for us.”
Two male shooting victims were transferred to Valley Medical Center in San Jose, one person was dead on arrival and another is in critical condition, Valley Medical spokeswoman Joy Alexiou said. There were no further details on their condition.
“We’d be the closest to get the most seriously injured patients,” Alexiou said. “People with lesser injuries can be transferred to other hospitals.”
Michael Hawkins, 19, stood behind the yellow police tape, hoping to see his mom, Rochelle Hawkins. She had called her son earlier Wednesday from a coworker’s phone to say she was alright.
“She got down with the rest of her coworkers,” when the shooting began and dropped her phone, he said. She didn’t see the shooter, he said, and was uncertain how close she may have been to the tragedy. “She was terrified.”
The shooting happened during the busiest time of day at the maintenance facility, when operators and maintenance workers are getting ready for the start of the day’s service, according to Raj Singh, the recording and financial secretary for Amalgamated Transit Union local 265, which represents VTA operators.
Singh said the shooting had not happened at an official ATU union meeting, as those meetings are held at the union hall in Campbell. He said he’s received calls from members expressing shock and from family members unable to get in touch with their loved ones.
“This is unspeakable,” he said. “You hear about it happening somewhere else and you think never here.”
Light rail service initially continued but VTA later announce the trains would stop running at noon.
We will be shutting down light rail service starting at noon today until further notice. We will have bus bridges in place to provide limited service while we work through this. The light rail yard remains an active investigation scene, limiting our ability to provide service.
— VTA (@VTA) May 26, 2021
– Active Shooter at VTA Light Rail Yard around 6:45a
– Multiple casualties, extent of injuries being determined
– Suspect deceased
– Employees evacuated
– VTA service not impacted (trains were in service before incident)
— VTA (@VTA) May 26, 2021
Authorities were asking people to stay away from the area of E. Taylor Street, W. Hedding Street and E. Mission Street. They were holding a staging area for families who may have relatives at 70 Hedding Street in the area at the sheriff’s office headquarters, which are next door to the VTA light rail yard.
No other information was available immediately.
Please check back for updates.
Staff writers Nico Savidge, Maggie Angst, Aldo Toledo and Kate Selig contributed to this story.