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SAN JOSE, Calif. – A Northern California rail yard worker who gunned down nine other employees before taking his own life appeared to target his victims and fired more than 39 shots, the Santa Clara County sheriff said Thursday.
The gunman, whose ex-wife says struggled with anger, told at least one person "I’m not going to shoot you," Sheriff Laurie Smith said. "And then he shot other people. So I imagine there was some kind of thought on who he wanted to shoot."
Smith said the 57-year-old gunman, identified as Samuel J. Cassidy, arrived at the light rail facility for the Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose about 6 a.m. Wednesday with a duffel bag and opened fire at about 6:30 a.m. in two buildings at the sprawling light rail hub. VTA provides bus, light rail and other transit services throughout Santa Clara County, the most populated county in the Bay Area.
"When our deputies went through the door, initially he was still firing rounds," Smith said. "When our deputy saw him, he took his life."
Officials found three semi-automatic 9mm handguns at the scene, which included 32 individual high-capacity magazines loaded with additional ammunition, the sheriff's office said Thursday afternoon.
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In California, it is illegal to buy magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. However, if Cassidy had obtained them before Jan. 1, 2000, he would be allowed to have them unless he was otherwise prohibited from possessing firearms.
Authorities were still investigating a motive but said the suspect "has been a highly disgruntled VTA employee for many years, which may have contributed to why he targeted VTA employees."
Cassidy, described by those who knew him as having alcohol issues, for years talked about his hatred of his workplace at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light rail hub. The details make clear the suspect employed tactics not routinely seen in mass shootings.
Kirk Bertolet, a signal maintenance worker who worked in a separate unit from Cassidy, told the Associated Press he is convinced Cassidy targeted his victims because he didn't hurt people he encountered on the way to the second building, where more shots were fired.
“Sam made sure he killed all who he wanted. He made sure they were dead,” Bertolet said. “I watched some of my coworkers breathe their last breaths, and they were all gone. Seven of them were just gone."
U.S. customs officers detained the gunman in 2016 and found he professed a hatred of his workplace, according to a Department of Homeland Security memo obtained by The Wall Street Journal.
He had "books about terrorism and fear and manifestos ... as well as a black memo book filled with lots of notes about how he hates the VTA" when Customs and Border Protection detained him after a trip to the Philippines, according to the memo reported by the Journal.
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A Biden administration official said he saw the memo and detailed its contents to The Associated Press. The memo doesn’t say why he was stopped after his 2016 trip. It notes the gunman had a "minor criminal history" and cites a 1983 incident where he was arrested in San Jose and charged with "misdemeanor obstruction/resisting a peace officer."
A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on the memo to USA TODAY.
Timeline of events: Officers rushed into San Jose rail yard as gunshots were still ringing out
The victims were mostly front-line workers: bus and light rail operators, mechanics, linemen and an assistant superintendent.
Eight victims were initially identified by the Santa Clara County coroner's office: Paul Delacruz Megia, 42; Taptejdeep Singh, 36; Adrian Balleza, 29; Jose Dejesus Hernandez, 35; Timothy Michael Romo, 49; Michael Joseph Rudometkin, 40; Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, 63, and Lars Kepler Lane, 63.
A ninth victim, Alex Ward Fritch, 49, was taken to a local hospital before he died Wednesday evening.
Cassidy was a long-time rail company worker. Payroll records obtained by ABC-7 News indicate he earned $160,000 in base, overtime and other pay as a VTA "substation maintainer."
Investigators are trying to determine whether he was involved in a fire at his home and another nearby blaze. He was seen on a neighbor's security camera footage leaving his home at 5:39 a.m. with a duffel bag, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
About an hour later, the San Jose Fire Department received a call about a blaze at a lumber business about 5 miles away from the rail yard. Then the first 911 calls reporting the shooting at the light rail yard came in, followed minutes later by a call of a fire at the gunman's home.
Smith said the gunman appeared to have set a timer or slow-burn device to set his home on fire.
A woman who dated Cassidy filed a restraining order against him in 2009, accusing him of rape and sexual assault. The filing, obtained by The Mercury News, also includes accusations that he had severe mood swings and suffered from alcohol abuse.
His ex-wife says he had talked about killing people at work more than a decade ago. "I never believed him, and it never happened," Cecilia Nelms said. "Until now."
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Nelms was married to Cassidy for about 10 years before they filed for divorce in 2005. She told The Mercury News he often was angry at co-workers and about his assignments at work. She said, however, that she had not spoken with him in more than a decade.
Smith told CNN and NBC a locker at the rail yard believed to be the gunman’s contained "materials for bombs, detonator cords, the precursors to an explosive."
The gunman's social media presence, if he had one, was not readily apparent.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom met with some family members of the victims and spoke at a news conference Wednesday, expressing frustration with the cycle of mass shootings in the U.S. He praised the efforts of law enforcement at the scene but asked: "What the hell is wrong with us, and when are we going to come to grips with this?"
Later Wednesday, President Joe Biden said he was "yet again" ordering flags be flown at half staff to mark another mass shooting and made a plea for gun control legislation.
"I urge Congress to take immediate action and heed the call of the American people, including the vast majority of gun owners, to help end this epidemic of gun violence in America," he said.
The U.S. has historically reported a gun homicide rate about 25 times higher than that of other wealthy nations. In 2021 alone, there have been 15 mass killings, each with at least four victims dead, according to an Associated Press/USA TODAY/Northeastern University database. All cases were shootings and claimed a total of 87 lives.
Wednesday's mass shooting was Santa Clara County's second in less than two years. In 2019, a gunman opened fire at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California, killing three people and wounding 17.
Bacon reported from Arlington, Virginia.; Hauck from Chicago.
Contributing: Christal Hayes, Jorge L. Ortiz and Will Carless, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: San Jose shooting: Shooter Sam Cassidy 'disgruntled'; 9th victim dies