SAN JOSE, Calif. – As authorities on Thursday continued to investigate the San Jose rail yard shooting that left nine people dead, a portrait of the gunman began to emerge – a transit worker who had apparently researched extremism and spoken of committing violence at his workplace.
All nine victims were employees of the Valley Transportation Authority, a tightknit agency that serves Northern California’s largest county and already had weathered months of essential work during the coronavirus pandemic.
Authorities publicly identified the shooter as 57-year-old Samuel Cassidy, whom they described as “a highly disgruntled” VTA employee. He worked at the agency for more than a decade, according to family and Santa Clara County records, and police said he died at the scene in an apparent suicide.
“The suspect has been a highly disgruntled VTA employee for many years, which may have contributed to why he targeted VTA employees,” Russell Davis, spokesman for the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, said in a statement Thursday evening.
Detectives found three semiautomatic handguns at the scene, along with 32 high-capacity magazines. Cassidy had fired between 30 and 40 rounds, Davis told The Washington Post.
Earlier Thursday, Santa Clara Sheriff Laurie Smith told reporters that Cassidy’s rampage appeared calculated. “He was very deliberate, very fast,” Smith said on NBC’s “Today.” “He knew where employees would be.”
In an interview with the Associated Press, Smith said Cassidy reportedly told one employee, “I’m not going to shoot you.”
“And then he shot other people,” Smith said. “So I imagine there was some kind of thought on who he wanted to shoot.”
Although Smith reiterated that investigators still did not know precisely what prompted the attack, researchers have found that shooters frequently target familiar places, including current and former workplaces.
Cassidy’s father, who lives in nearby Cupertino, said in a brief phone interview Wednesday afternoon that he saw his son a couple times a year and that they seldom talked about work.
“I’m not aware that he was ever involved with guns or anything of that sort,” said James Cassidy, who said he had not heard that his son was involved in the shooting.
“My God,” he said. “Nobody has told us that.”
In 2016, Cassidy was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection after a trip to the Philippines and was found to have “books about terrorism and fear and manifestos,” according to the Wall Street Journal’s account of a Department of Homeland Security memo.
Cassidy was also found with a book “filled with lots of notes about how he hates the VTA,” said the memo, which was circulated after the shooting, according to the Journal. A DHS official confirmed to The Post that the Journal’s reporting is accurate.
During questioning, the memo said, officials asked whether Cassidy had problems with anyone at work and “he stated ‘no.'”
However, years earlier, Cassidy had talked about killing people at his job, his ex-wife, Cecilia Nelms, told AP.
“I never believed him, and it never happened,” she said. “Until now.”
Nelms told AP that Cassidy “could dwell on things.” The two were married for about 10 years, separating in 2004 and eventually divorcing, court records show. They had not spoken for about 13 years, she said. Nelms did not respond to requests by The Post for comment.
Across San Jose, a city of roughly 1 million at the southern end of California’s Bay Area, an all-too-familiar scene continued to unfold Thursday.
Investigators kept at their probes of the crime scene and Cassidy’s home while mourners gathered in public spaces to leave flowers and light candles for the victims of yet another mass shooting – the latest episode in what already has been a terrible year of gun violence. So far, 2021 has outpaced even 2020, when gun violence killed more people than in any other year in at least two decades, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.
The city planned a vigil for Thursday night. For the area’s community of public transit workers, the grief of losing friends and colleagues was especially acute.
In a tearful appearance at the agency’s headquarters Thursday morning, VTA officials read the names of the nine victims.
They were identified as Taptejdeep Singh, 36; Adrian Balleza, 29; Jose DeJesus Hernandez III, 35; Timothy Michael Romo, 49; Michael Joseph Rudometkin, 40; Paul Delacruz Megia, 42; Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, 63; Lars Kepler Lane, 63; and Alex Ward Fritch, 49. Fritch died hours after being rushed to a hospital.
“Words are not enough to justify the pain we’re all going through,” said Naunihal Singh, a transportation superintendent who worked closely with some of those killed.
“Many of our light-rail operators are incredibly traumatized,” VTA spokeswoman Stacey Hendler Ross said.
Authorities began fielding calls about gunfire at the building around 6:30 a.m. local time, and officers at the nearby sheriff’s and police offices entered as rounds were still being fired, officials said. The deputies did not exchange fire with Cassidy, and they said they think he turned his gun on himself after they arrived.
After the scene had been secured, police dogs alerted authorities to what was thought to be Cassidy’s locker, the sheriff said on “Today.” Inside, investigators found “materials for bombs, detonator cords, the precursors to an explosive,” she said.
At the same time, eight miles away, authorities were responding to a fire at Cassidy’s house. Smith said it appeared Cassidy had used a device to time the blaze “to coincide with the shooting.” A search found more ammunition inside, she said.
Cassidy did not appear to have a criminal record in Santa Clara County. Court records indicate his most recent encounter with county law enforcement was a November 2019 “fix-it-ticket” for not having a front plate on a vehicle. He addressed it within nine days, a court spokesman said.
In 2009, a 45-year-old woman who had had a year-long, on-and-off relationship with Cassidy filed court paperwork alleging that he had become enraged and forced himself on her sexually several times. The woman, whom The Post is not naming because of the sexual assault allegations, said Cassidy was at times manipulative and “exhibited major mood swings.”
“These mood swings were exacerbated when petitioner consumed large quantities of alcohol,” she wrote. “He has also played several mind games which he seems to enjoy.”
Cassidy’s ex-girlfriend filed the document in response to his seeking a restraining order against her. In a request for protection, he accused her of harassing him, threatening to try to have him fired and damaging his car. The woman disputed those allegations. Records show that a judge granted the restraining order.
Robert Gary Cummings, a lawyer who represented Cassidy’s ex-girlfriend, told the Daily Beast that the two agreed not to contact each other after the court action.
Neighbors described Samuel Cassidy as intensely reclusive.
Cassidy’s next-door neighbor, Doug Suh, said they had rarely interacted since Suh moved into the neighborhood about five years ago. On one of the few occasions when they did exchange words, Cassidy stormed outside and screamed at Suh for briefly using Cassidy’s driveway to turn his car around, Suh said.
“He wouldn’t even say ‘Hi’ to me. He would just look,” Suh, a 63-year-old real estate broker, told The Post in a phone interview. “He doesn’t talk to anybody in the neighborhood. He was quiet.”
Another neighbor, Kelly Le, said Cassidy was “quiet,” mostly staying inside his house. She never saw anyone visit him, and other neighbors told her they didn’t talk to him. Occasionally, Le, who lives two doors down, would walk her dog by him while he was outside and he would say “Hi” but nothing else.
“He did not talk to nobody,” she said.
She said she had not noticed anything strange around his house in the 16 years she’s lived in the neighborhood, until several months ago when she saw a barbecue grill briefly barricading his door.
She said that on Wednesday when she woke to the fire and saw that his truck was gone, she knew something was wrong.
“It was really, really close to our house,” she said. “Really bad. We didn’t know what to do.”
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The Washington Post’s Nick Miroff, Alice Crites, Julie Tate, Meryl Kornfield, Devlin Barrett, Hannah Knowles and Mark Berman contributed to this report.