California mass shooting: Rail employee ‘shoots dead eight and himself’ as suspect’s house found on fire

·7 min read
Tactical law enforcement officers move through the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light-rail yard where a mass shooting occurred on May 26, 2021 in San Jose, California (Getty Images)
Tactical law enforcement officers move through the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light-rail yard where a mass shooting occurred on May 26, 2021 in San Jose, California (Getty Images)

Eight people were killed in a mass shooting during a “union meeting” at a train yard in San Jose, California, on Wednesday, according to police and multiple reports.

Santa Clara County sheriff Laurie Smith said officers ran into the building as shots were being fired in “heroics that resulted in a diminished loss of life”.

Here’s everything we know about this tragic shooting.

What happened?

Police were called at 6:34am about shots breaking out at a county railway maintenance year, located near the Santa Clara County sheriff’s department headquarters.

Nine people died - including the suspect, who was an employee of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) - while more than 40 survivors were evacuated. At least one survivor is injured and in “critical condition” at a nearby hospital, according to police.

Santa Clara County Sheriff’s deputy Russell Davis said the “numbers can change, this is still a fluid and active situation”.

A fellow VTA employee reportedly called his mother and said the shooting occurred during a union meeting at the rail yard.

Raj Singh, the recording and financial secretary for Amalgamated Transit Union local 265, which represents VTA operators, told The Mercury News that the shooting occurred at the busiest time of day during a shift change when operators and maintenance workers were getting ready for the start of the day’s service.

The shooting at 100 W Younger Ave is the location of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s maintenance yard, which services rail, bus and shuttle services to the Bay Area.

Who is the suspect?

The primary suspect was identified as railway technician Samuel James Cassidy, 57, with multiple local media outlets, including KTVU, the San Jose Mercury News, and a local NBC affiliate, citing law enforcement sources. Sheriff’s deputy Cian Jackson told The Independent they would not be releasing the name of the suspect until the coroner’s office had informed the next of kin.

The 57-year-old male gunman reportedly died by suicide, sources told The Los Angeles Times, with multiple weapons and ammunition said to have been found inside his home. Authorities said they believe the shooter died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and that officers did not exchange fire with him.

Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputy Cian Jackson told The Independent they would not be officially releasing a name until the coroner’s office had informed the next of kin.

Cassidy’s ex-girlfriend told NBC Bay Area on Wednesday that the man was “not mentally stable” during their relationship, which occurred 12 years ago.

The woman, who kept her name anonymous, said she hasn’t spoken with Cassidy in years, but described how he got angry and aggressive after she turned down a marriage proposal two months into their relationship, which began after meeting on dating site Match.com.

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“I was scared,” she said. “He made a lot of trouble for me. I’ve moved forward.”

“He’s a murderer,” she added. “He killed innocent people. That’s terrible. I feel sad.”

Cassidy didn’t have a major criminal background, KTVU reports, though he did have a few traffic violations on file. One coworker reportedly said the man was “strange,” while others in the neighbourhood called him a “loner”.

Is there any evidence about a motive?

At a press conference on Wednesday, sheriff’s department officials said there was no official information yet about a potential motive.

Law enforcement sources told the LA Times that the shooting was related to a workplace issue and that it did not involve riders of Santa Clara County’s light rail system.

How is the investigation proceeding?

The Santa Clara County sheriff’s department, San Jose police department, as well as federal agencies like Homeland Security, the FBI, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms are assisting with the investigation into the shooting, which took place across at least two different buildings at the railway facility.

“We received information there are explosive devices inside the building,” Mr Davis, the sheriff’s deputy, said, adding that the bomb squad and Federal Bureau of Investigation had been activated to investigate. A bomb dog detected a device but no further information was revealed.

Authorities must clear the building before a deeper crime scene investigation can occur.

A fire was reported around the time of the shooting at the alleged gunman’s San Jose house, about nine miles from the main railway crime scene, according to a firefighter quoted by KTVU. The FBI and bomb squad also investigated the home.

Authorities reportedly found gasoline and hundreds of rounds of ammunition inside the home, where Mr Cassidy’s ex-wife confirmed to KTVU the couple had lived together before divorcing in 2009.

What have elected leaders said in response?

Joe Biden was briefed on the mass shooting by his Homeland Security Advisor, Liz Sherwood-Randall, according to a statement given to press pool reporters.

The president said in a statement while they’re still learning details, there are at least eight families who will never be whole again.

“There are children, parents, and spouses who are waiting to hear whether someone they love is ever going to come home. There are union brothers and sisters – good, honest, hardworking people – who are mourning their own,” Mr Biden said.

The president urged Congress to do more and take immediate action to help end “this epidemic of gun violence” in America, saying every life taken by a bullet pierces the soul of our nation.

“I have the solemn duty of yet again of ordering the flag to be lowered at half-staff, just weeks after doing so following the mass shootings at spas in and around Atlanta; in a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado; at a home in Rock Hill, South Carolina; and at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, Indiana. Enough.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, who has family in the city of San Jose, told reporters “the facts are still revealing themselves but it is absolutely tragic, it’s absolutely tragic”.

California leaders also condemned the violence and called for reform.

Governor Gavin Newsom asked when the country would end the politics, stale rhetoric and finger-pointing, which he argues produces nothing except more fury and frustration at mass shootings repeated over and over again.

“We’re experiencing something that is not experienced anywhere else in the world, there is a sameness to this and that numbness I think we’re all feeling,” he said.

“It begs the damn question, what the hell’s going on in the United States of America? What the hell’s wrong with us, and when are we going to come to grips with this? When are we going to put down our arms literally and figuratively?”

San Jose’s mayor also expressed his anguish about the shooting, which occurred less than two years after another major spree in the area in 2019, at a garlic festival in Gilroy, California, where three people were killed and 12 were injured.

“This is a horrific day for our city, and it’s a tragic day for the VTA family,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said on Wednesday. “Our heart pains for the family and coworkers because we know so many are feeling deeply this loss of their loved ones and their friends. Now is the moment for us to collect ourselves and understand what happened, to mourn and help those who have suffered to heal.”

He also called for reforms, saying he is working “to ensure we never see a horrific tragedy like this again in San Jose.”

What is being done for the families of the victims?

Family members looking for survivors evacuated from the facility were directed to a nearby County building at 70 W Hedding Street. The VTA said that grief counsellors would be onsite for employees and family.

Those looking for loved ones were also directed to call 408-299-2311 for more information.

A fund for families impacted by the violence can be found at Working Partnerships USA, a labour advocacy group.

Flags were ordered at half mast in Washington DC and San Jose, and a community vigil will be held tomorrow at 6pm PST at San Jose’s city hall.

How many mass shootings have occurred this year?

According to the Gun Violence Archive, at least 232 mass shootings have occurred so far in 2021, putting America on pace to have the highest number of mass shootings since 2014.

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