The nine victims killed at a Santa Clara Valley Transporation Authority light rail yard in a mass shooting were mourned at a memorial event at VTA offices Thursday. (5/27/21)
- Good morning, and thank you for joining us this morning, as we honor the victim's family members who lost their lives in yesterday's tragic attack. Today is a day to honor those individuals and their families. We want to support all our employees who are grieving as we are all grieving. We know there's more information to come about this incident, but today is about our employees and their families. It is about people.
Many of you have reported the names of the employees who were lost. To us here at VTA, they are friends and our family, and we want to honor their memory. Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, aged 63, worked for VTA for approximately 20 years as a substation maintainer. Adrian Balleza, aged 29, started his employment with VTA as a bus operator trainee in 2014, and later becoming a maintenance worker and light rail operator.
Jose Dejesus Hernandez III, aged 35, started employment in 2012 as a transit mechanic, later becoming an electromechanic and then a substation maintainer. Lars Kepler Lane, aged 63, started his employment with VTA in 2001 as an electromechanic, later becoming an overhead line worker. Michael Joseph Rudometkin, aged 40, started his employment with VTA in 2013 as a VTA mechanic, later becoming an electromechanic and then an overhead line worker.
Paul Megia, aged 42, started his appointment in 2002 as a bus operator trainee, later becoming a light rail operator, transportation supervisor, transit division supervisor, and ultimately an assistant superintendent in service management. Taptejdeep Singh, aged 36, started his appointment in 2014 as a bus operator trainee, later becoming a light rail operator. Timothy Romo, aged 49, started for VTA over 20-- for over 20 years as an overhead line worker. And we learned late last night that a ninth employee died of his injuries during the attack. Alex Fritch, aged 49, worked as a substation maintainer. I would like to ask that we all take a moment of silence for our fallen workers. Thank you.
Last night at the-- after the identity of our fallen employees was confirmed, I spoke with family members to share our condolences and sorrow, and let them know that we are here to support them in whatever way that we can. And I have spoken to the families of all-- all the nine families. I'm not going to go into details about my calls. All the families are in pain, but we are here to help.
We want all of our employees to know we are all grieving together, and we want to do everything we possibly can to support each other. If today, or in the coming days, you need to stop, talk with a co-worker, take some quiet time, do it. Whatever your emotions, the pain, sorrow, anger, love, questions, these are all normal, but please reach out to someone if you want help to process all these things that are going on in your heart and in your head.
I want to thank all the union groups and transit agencies from across the country who have reached out to VTA to offer their support and help. I also want to thank all the non-profits and other groups have reached out with offers of support. It is awesome to see the caring and concern that people are showing. It helps the entire VTA family to know that we are not alone as we go through this journey.
And I have just one more thing to add. In my family a while ago, we started writing haikus to just show different things that are going on. And I wrote this last night. Our friends will be missed. Serving riders makes us smile. Nine will inspire us. Thank you.
- Now I'd like to introduce our acting general manager and CEO, who is also the general counsel of VTA, Evelyn Trent.
EVELYN TRENT: You know, we get up every morning safe in the belief that when we go to work, that we would come home to our family and our loved ones. That did not happen for Abdolvahab, Adrian, Alex, Jose, Lars, Michael, Paul, Taptejdeep, and Timothy. Some of us get training on what to do when there is an active shooter event, but not about the aftermath.
And yesterday, I was at the Family Assistance Center, and I saw that aftermath. And I saw the immense pain in the faces of the families. And I heard their cries when they got the news. And it was utterly heart wrenching. And I felt immensely helpless.
Yesterday, I also received a tremendous outpouring of support and solidarity from the transit community throughout the country, and from our sister and brother public agencies at all levels of government. On behalf of VTA, I thank you all. And we will take you up on those offers as we start rebuilding and delivering on our services, because that's what we do. We are strong, we support each other, we're a family.
But today-- today, I want to say the names of the nine people that we've lost, our VTA family. And I want to honor them. And I want to mourn for them and with their families. Thank you.
- Next, I'd like to introduce Carolyn Gonot. She is our incoming general manager and CEO.
- Please spell the name.
- G-O-N-O-T C-A-R-O-L-Y-N.
CAROLYN GONOT: Thank you. Good morning. Currently I'm the executive director of the Utah Transit Authority. So when I heard these horrific news yesterday, I was shocked and deeply saddened by the shooting at our rail maintenance facility. This is a tragic time for VTA family, and my fellow transit agencies and colleagues nationwide are mourning with them.
Our hearts are with the victims, their families and friends, the employees of VTA, and all of those impacted by this event. I will be joining VTA as the general manager, CEO in July, but I previously spent 23 years here at VTA, and they are considered my family. I'm in touch with the leadership at VTA yesterday. I was in touch, and folk-- and really was proud of the focus on safety and the well-being of all of our employees. I appreciated the support of the law enforcement, officials, and the communities in Santa Clara County and the C of San Jose as we continue to learn-- to learn more information about what happened yesterday.
I support and echo the sentiments of the VTA board chairperson, Glen Hendricks. And I appreciate his leadership, his rock solid leadership, during this time frame and the entire board that stands behind me during this extremely trying time. I'm confident the VTA employees will be strong and come together to take care of each other and the families of the victims in the wake of this horrific event.
We have grief counselors stationed at every one of our divisions, and we have each other to lean on. In the coming days, we'll provide more information about how we can honor those victims and pay tribute. One of which is the vigil this evening at the San Jose City Hall. You know, public transportation is a tight knit community across the country and across the world, and tragedies like this deeply impact everyone.
From one transit agency to another, we mourn in solidarity. My deepest sympathies go out to-- to the victims and their families, the entire VTA family as we go through this difficult time together. This will be a healing journey. Um, I am very happy to be here to support this agency today and coming in. I took a flight out last night and I'm, um, up to the task of doing this, but I know it will be much of a healing time for all of us. Thank you.
- I'd like to introduce now two employees, uh, who will be making remarks and will not be taking questions. Naunihal Singh is our light rail transportation superintendent, and George Sandoval is our light rail maintenance operations manager.
- Spell your full name, please.
NAUNIHAL SINGH: N-A-U-N-I-H-A-L. Good morning. My name is Naunihl Singh. I've been VTA employee for 22 years. I'm the superintendent of light rail yard. Um, yes, I'm that unfortunate leader who lost my VTA family members.
Words are not enough to justify the pain we are all going through. I worked directly with Paul Megia. We shared the same office space. Taptejdeep and Adrian Balleza, top light rail operators reporting directly to me, and I usually have interaction with them every day. It just happened to be all three of them have very similar personalities, such uncommon effect on everybody else.
Um, sometimes my demands could be unreasonable, but Paul always accepted it with a smile, always willing to help his employees. They seems to reach out to him for whatever their needs were. Taptejdeep, this gentleman always have questions for others, how he can help out others. Even though he disagrees with you, but he'll take it with a smile and accept it.
And Adrian, what can I say about the gentleman? Gem of a person, way kind-hearted. He's volunteering for stuff that can build some funds to make, um, the job fun for his co-workers. And what I'm hearing from my peers, whatever happened yesterday, it shows the character of these guys. How they tried to save others while going-- going through that chaotic situation.
I don't know what kind of poker face I can put out there as a leader to support them. I'm going through a lot of, uh, I would say confused emotions. I don't know. I'm angry. I'm sad. I'm lost in words. At the same time, trying to find out reasons why. None of our family members from VTA or the extended family deserved this punishment.
Yes, all day I was there to support the families, but I don't know how. Um, even though there was an exceptional support from every level from state, county, city, law enforcement, VTA executives, union leadership, they were there to support, but unfortunately, we were helpless inside, because we cannot provide what the family members were looking from us yesterday. I was able to hold those emotions with me whole day yesterday.
When I went home at 7:00 PM last night, I saw my family running towards the carbonate park. When they hugged me, they were happy that I was able to make home but I was sad inside that some of my family members could not feel the warmth that I was able to feel yesterday. That's going to be missed forever.
Yes, I know as a leader, I have to find a direction for my troops. And yes, eventually, we will. But at this time, I wanted to send a message to my team members out there, the VTA family, and everybody out there to continue to provide the support that you guys are providing. I want the employees in uh, VTA, to be that support, a shoulder for each other so you can lean and express yourself. I wish nobody have to be in a situation like this, to have a conference for this kind of situation. Thank you.
GEORGE SANDOVAL: Uh, yes, my name is George Sandoval. I'm the maintenance of light manager. Uh, all the infrastructure that you see out there, uh, the staff that do all the work report to me. Unfortunately, a number of them lost their lives yesterday.
Um, you know, many of these folks work here for 20, 30 years. And so yes, we do become a family. And when you work in a small group-- and our staff respond to emergencies, you know, on the rail and what have you. And there's a bond that occurs, and you really do become a family.
And it's-- it's been difficult for everyone, in particular at the yard and, of course, the families of the victims. And my heart goes out to all of them. Uh, I just want to say that the support all, uh, throughout the agency-- I've received numerous text emails and even beyond from the, um, transit community overall have been heartfelt and when-- when the opportunity is there and we get back with our staff, I plan to share all of that with them and, uh, just reach out to them and try and make coming back to work as easy for them as possible.
And I see all the effort being made for the victims' families, and I'm very thankful that that's occurring. I just want to know-- let all of the VTA family know that the support that you're providing to the group that was directly impacted is very much appreciated. And that I get it. We're-- we're a relatively small agency. And as was mentioned earlier, staff move into different positions, so they work throughout the organization. So we kind of all know each other. and it's beyond just the facility you're in. It's agency-wide. It truly is a VTA family.
And, uh, I just want them all to know that yes, this is very difficult. And, uh, I know I'm having a hard time with it, so I ask if you need any help or anything, please, uh, use all the services available. Reach out to one another and, um, show the support. I-- I just want everyone to do as well as they can under the circumstances. Thank you very much.
- Our next Speaker is Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez. She's also a VTA board member.
CINDY CHAVEZ: So I, too, want to share my-- my great sympathy with the families and with all of our VTA family today, as they miss and mourn the loss of others and also face the-- the trauma that they're experiencing themselves. As VTA works to help the families of the victims navigate the process and accessing various resources, we want them to know that there are two funds that have been set up. And I'll share this with the community. So many of you have asked how you can help.
One is through working partnerships [INAUDIBLE] community resources program. You can go to act.wpusa.org to contribute. [INAUDIBLE] the amalgamated transunion, which represents many of the victims of the tragedy yesterday. And they have set up a fund to help families that's called actionnetwork.org.
There has been outpouring from across the country, and we're overwhelmed with the gracious offers to provide resources, staffing, and really whatever we need. We've received support from the Federal Transportation Administration. As many of you know, our-- our former general manager, Nuria Fernandez, is now the acting administrator at FTA. She's reached out with her sympathies and support. And the American Public Transportation Authority has also reached out. And we're so grateful to all the love and the good wishes from everyone. It really does mean a lot at this time.
I want to especially acknowledge a few heroes and champions. In addition to the Santa Clara County sheriffs and the San Jose Police who responded [INAUDIBLE] who stepped up as they always do in emergencies, the Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Department, and the District Attorney's Victim Advocates Group, who've been supporting the families through this process. And finally, the county's Behavioral Health Services.
And I just want to say to everybody who's listening, if you need help, reach out. There are so many ways to get services, and we don't want a single person to go without the services that they need. Thank you.
- Next, I'd like to introduce San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who is also a VTA board member.
SAM LICCARDO: Good morning. As the numbness wears off for many of us and the dark reality is set in, I am heartened and emboldened by the incredible acts of courage, compassion, and support we've seen from so many members of the VTA family, all the way up to Evelyn and Glen. It is, uh-- It is something, I think, that gives us all reason to believe that we can together forge ahead on this difficult path of healing, and do all that we must do to support our families who have lost loved ones, our coworkers who have lost their good friends.
We will be holding a vigil at San Jose City Hall this evening at 6:00 PM to give all the members of our community an opportunity to gather to grieve together, perhaps to reconvene after far too long apart through this pandemic. And together, embark on that critically important path of healing. I want to thank all those in the community who have stepped up, who have given to the fund.
Supervisor Chavez referred to-- to support the families, the volunteers, the Red Cross. I really want to thank-- County Behavioral Health came out in droves to support the families yesterday, and I know they're going to continue to be there and the District Attorney's Victim's Assistance Team. They're incredible champions and supporters at a time of such an intense need.
In Espanol, [SPEAKING SPANISH].
- Our next speaker is San Jose City Council Member Dev Davis. She is also a VTA board member, and she's the chair of Caltrain.
DEV DAVIS: This is a sad day. We have been visited by a terrible tragedy, senseless and-- and horrible. And in the face of such horror, it is good for us to come together to mourn so we can begin to heal.
The people who work for VTA have dedicated themselves to public service, and the essential work that they do is critical to the daily life of tens of thousands of people. Because of their service to us, their pain is our pain as well. And on behalf of Caltrain, I extend our deepest sympathies.
I wish I knew the words that could help to make sense of what has happened, but I think we all know that that's not the case. As we stumble through these emotions that we're feeling, we must remember that we're not alone. To the families and the friends of the fallen, I want to say that we are here for you today, and here for you in the time ahead as you move through but not past your grief.
We are here today so no one can be in this pain alone, so we can come together after a long period apart of isolation, and be there for one another and for you. And to the many VTA writers, please remember to demonstrate kindness and compassion to the men and women who keep it running. They are continuing the service and to work for all of us as they deal with their own pain. Let us ensure that they do not have to suffer through that alone.
I hope you will come to the vigil this evening. Caltrain will be providing free transportation to and from the vigil. Thank you.
- Our final Speaker is San Jose City Council Member Raul Peralez. He is also a VTA board member. Immediately after Raul speaks, I'll have a few pieces of [INAUDIBLE].
RAUL PERALEZ: Good morning. Thank you. Um. OK. It is on. Yes. OK. Good morning and thank you. Um, my name is Raul Peralez. I'm council representative for District 3, where this incident occurred. Uh, also a VTA board member. And, uh, and personally was affected, um, as I have a-- a lifelong friend, Michael J. Rudometkin, uh, as well. I actually spent last night, uh, with his wife and close friends and I just came from spending the morning with his parents, uh, and his sister and brother-in-law.
And I unfortunately get to-- to know personally how these nine families have felt this past night, this morning, with just a sense of disbelief, with a hope that your loved one is still going to come home, and knowing that that's just never going to happen again. Uh, it has been painstaking and heartbreaking, uh, and I-- and I truly feel for all of the victims' families, all of the survivors, the friends, the loved ones, and our community as a whole that is mourning in this tragedy.
I want to thank all the first responders, all the VTA staff, the Sheriff's Department, the District Attorney's team, everybody that stepped up to do their part. And we need to continue to wrap our arms around these families, around out VTA family as we go out and-- and continue to offer a necessity of public transportation to our community under these extreme and horrendous circumstances.
Personally, my-- my heart is broken. And-- and honestly, it's going to take a lot of time, not for me, but for all of us, to be able to heal. And I thank my personal VTA board members as well, uh, for your continued support through this difficult time. [SPEAKING SPANISH].
- I have just a couple of pieces of information before I take limited questions. Uh, first, I'd like to reinforce that our Human Resources Department will be reaching out to the families of all the victims in this incident to help them navigate the multiple benefits and resources that they will need to cope with the days ahead. Um, I also want to say that our light rail service is suspended until further notice. We have a substitute bus service that will be running along the light rail line, and we have gratefully accepted the assistance of AC Transit and Sam Trans, who will be providing, uh, bus operators to come in and give us that extra service so that we can get our passengers on their way.
I want to remind you that we will not be taking questions concerning the criminal investigation. The Sheriff's Office County-- Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office will be, um, updating later today. Uh, I'm going to take limited questions now starting with ABC7.
- Will VTA have a public memorial for the victims at some point?
- We are planning-- we are planning to participate tonight in the city's vigil, and we will be planning something in the days ahead. We don't have the specifics on that just yet.
- Excuse me, I can just say.
- So yes, VTA is going to be planning something. This is one of the questions that was asked of me by, uh, one of the family members. And in-- when we put this together, we're going to do it in consultation, in partnership with the families so we're not just doing something separate from them.
- Next, we'll hear from KPIX TV. Are you with KPIX TV?
- Um, as far as--
- Can you speak up, please?
- Yes. Moving forward, as far as the operation, tell us about that process. Making sure [INAUDIBLE] to make sure the operation [INAUDIBLE]
EVELYN TRENT: Other than the light rail service, which, um, Stacy has already talked about, our bus service will continue. And if you're asking about counseling services for, um, our VTA employees, yes, that is ongoing. Um, and we're not talking about days. We're talking about an extended period of time, um, that's been offered to our employees for that.
- Our next question will be from KRON. KRON. Our next question will be from KTVU. Our next question will be from Telemundo. Our next question will be from Univision. One more question, Fox TV 40.
- Can you tell us about, um, the actual training your team goes through. The Sheriff's Office told us that last year, they did training for the same exact [INAUDIBLE] happened. Can you tell us about the several training that your staff does go through. Um, we were told that the purpose of that training [INAUDIBLE] about that training.
- Glen? Can you deal with that?
- Yes, I can do that.
- So, um-- So thank you for the question. The County Sheriff's Department, because they provide the, um-- the safety services for VTA, did provide active trainer shooting. I mean-- I'm sorry, active shooter training, both for that facility. And at least from the reflections of talking to the Sheriff, they really are confident that that helps save lives, especially in terms of teaching people how to hide, how to engage, and all of those other steps that unfortunately we're becoming used to learning about.
- Is it something you do every year?
- Um, you know, I don't know the-- the frequency of it. I do know that it was done recently.
- Our next question is from NBC Bay Area.
- [INAUDIBLE] We talked with, um, family of Taptejdeep Singh. And they talked about the fact that he was able to alert some of his coworkers? Can his supervisor speak to that?
- We don't have that information, and their supervisors are-- are not, um, doing extra interviews right now. KCBS.
- Without going into the details of the criminal investigation, can you generically explain why service is suspended until further notice?
- Service is suspended until further notice because our Guadalupe Light Rail Yard is currently closed down. The investigation is continuing. Many of our light rail operators are incredibly traumatized, and we are trying to help provide that counseling. We're not requiring people to come to work immediately. Next question from the Mercury News.
- [INAUDIBLE] but the VTA as an agency with the shooter. Does he have any kind of disciplinary history with the agency? Or were there any reports from colleagues about feeling threatened or feeling concerned about him?
- So we're not prepared to discuss that at this moment. I want to thank everyone for coming out today. A couple of our board members, um, and executive leadership will be available for one on one interviews. Please contact me if you'd like to do that. Thank you very much for coming.