By TIM ROWDEN
San Jose, CA – The nine people who were killed in a mass shooting May 26 at the Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose were members of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 265. They were attending a union meeting when the shooting started.
ATU International President John Costa released the following statement: “We are shocked and deeply saddened by the multiple fatalities and injuries at a shooting today at a VTA rail facility in San Jose, California. Our hearts and prayers are with our sisters, brothers and their families at ATU Local 265. We are working to provide support and assistance to the victims’ families, and everyone impacted by this tragic event.”
‘OUR BROTHERS, SISTERS’
“Every mass shooting is a tragedy. But this mass shooting hits close to home because the victims are our brothers and sisters,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. “We still don’t know all the details, but we know this senseless act of violence happened at an Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) meeting in San Jose. It’s hard to take in, I know. We’ve all been to those meetings. A place of solidarity and democracy turned into a target for carnage.
“I’m sad. I’m angry. But we are a family. Families grow together, celebrate together – and grieve together,” Trumka said. “And over this past year, our family has had way too much grief. It’s a reminder that our work is great, and our time together is never long enough. May God bless the memories of the brothers and sisters we lost today, and may God give their loved ones strength.”
“It is a horrible day for the city of Santa Clara,” said Jose Vargas, executive director of Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), “and equally as difficult for the Labor Movement because these victims were members of the ATU union family, and we share in their grief.”
“These were essential workers who set out from their homes to perform their duties and keep the city moving through the pandemic,” the LCLAA said in a statement. “In addition, they worked to provide their families with the daily essentials of life, never imagining that they would not be returning home at the end of their shift. Families should never have to worry if their loved ones will return home after doing their jobs.”
GUNMAN APPEARED TO TARGET VICTIMS
Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith told the Associated Press the gunman, Samuel Cassidy, 57, arrived at the VTA facility around 6 a.m. Wednesday, May 26, with a duffel bag filled with semi-automatic handguns and high-capacity magazines and appeared to target his victims, leaving other workers at the facility unharmed.
“It appears to us at this point that he said to one of the people there: ‘I’m not going to shoot you,’” Smith said. “And then he shot other people. So I imagine there was some kind of thought on who he wanted to shoot.”
While there are no cameras inside the rail yard’s two buildings, Smith said footage from the rail yard captured him moving from one location to the next. It took deputies six minutes from the first 911 calls to find Cassidy on the third floor of one of the buildings.
Cassidy fired a total of 39 bullets, Smith said, and killed himself as deputies closed in.
The attack was the 15th mass killing in the U.S. this year, all shootings that claimed at least four lives each for a total of 87 deaths, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University.
President Joe Biden urged Congress to act on legislation to curb gun violence, saying, “Every life that is taken by a bullet pierces the soul of our nation. We can, and we must, do more.”
Union members killed in shooting recalled as loving, kind-hearted, heroic
The nine people who were killed in a shooting at a California rail yard were remembered by their families, colleagues and friends as loving, kind-hearted and heroic. The following profiles were compiled from the Associated Press, the New York Times and various local news sources.
JOSE DEJESUS HERNANDEZ III, 35, was a substation maintainer who had been partnered with Samuel Cassidy, the man who authorities say gunned down Hernandez and eight others, said his father, Jose Dejesus Hernandez II, a retired Valley Transportation Authority employee. He said he was not aware of issues Cassidy may have had with his son or others.
“Hernandez III was somebody who was so fair. A very, very fair person and always leaning to the right side of things, always looking for the right thing to do,” said Hernandez, crying at times in an interview with The Associated Press. “He was a really good guy, a great kid, and now he’s gone.”
TAPTEJDEEP SINGH, 36, called another Valley Transportation Authority employee to warn him about Samuel Cassidy, saying he needed to get out or hide.
“He told me he was with Paul (Delacruz Megia), another victim, at the time,” coworker Sukhvir Singh, who is not related to him, said in a statement. “From what I’ve heard, he spent the last moments of his life making sure that others — in the building and elsewhere — would be able to stay safe.”
Singh’s co-workers also told his family that he left his office where people were hiding to warn others. He was shot when he ran into the gunman in a stairwell, his uncle Sukhwant Dhillon told local media outlets.
Karman Singh said his older brother had “a lion’s heart” and that he “died fighting for others, and trying to save his community, his VTA community.”
PAUL DELACRUZ MEGIA, 42, always had a smile on his face, no matter what was thrown his way, a colleague at the transit agency said.
Light rail superintendent Naunihal Singh said he shared an office with Megia, an assistant superintendent who started with the agency in 2002.
“Even if he disagrees with you, he’ll take it with a smile,” Singh recalled. “Sometimes my demands could be unreasonable, but Paul always accepted it with a smile.”
Megia had two sons, a daughter and a stepson and had planned to leave Thursday for a family trip to Disneyland, his father Leonard Megia told The New York Times. He said his son left home at 4:30 a.m. to commute to work but made sure to call his children every morning to check in on them before they started school.
“He was a wonderful dad,” he said.
ADRIAN BALLEZA, 29, was kind-hearted and the type of colleague who tried to make work fun for his co-workers, a VTA colleague told reporters.
Balleza joined the VTA in 2014 as a bus operator trainee and then became a maintenance worker and light-rail operator, said Glenn Hendricks, chair of the authority’s board.
He is survived by his wife, Heather Balleza, and 2-year-old son.
“He was so happy to drive the bus. He was so happy that he got a new schedule. He started at four in the morning so he could come home and spend time with his family in the evening,” friend Beatrice Trotter told NBC-owned KNTV in San Jose.
ALEX FRITCH, 49, died at a hospital after the shooting, surrounded by his children and parents, said his wife, Terra Fritch of San Jose.
“He was our rock, my safe place to fall. He was the love of my life,” Fritch told KTVU-TV.
The couple got married after having known each other for just six months and had been together 20 years. They were supposed to travel to Hawaii next September to renew their vows, she said.
“He always tried to look on the bright side of things. He loved Mr. Rogers. He watched him all the time. He loved the documentaries. He loved movies,” she said.
Fritch said she raced to the hospital after learning he had been shot. She said hospital staff moved him over in his bed so she could lie down with him.
“Alex was really fighting hard. He didn’t want to go anywhere, and I didn’t want him to go,” Fritch told the station.
ABDOLVAHAB ALAGHMANDAN, 63, had been with the Valley Transportation Authority for 20 years and was dedicated to his job, his son Soheil Alaghmandan, 33, told the Mercury News in San Jose.
“He worked overtime. He worked through the entire pandemic,” Soheil said of his father. “He’s a tinkerer. He can fix anything.”
When Megan Staker moved to San Francisco from Des Moines in 2018 with her boyfriend Soheil, he took her home to meet his parents, Alaghmandan and Firoozeh Davallou, at their Castro Valley home, she told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Right away Abdi, as Alaghmandan was known, “became like a second father to me,” Staker told the Chronicle. “He brought so much joy and laughter to our lives.”
MICHAEL JOSEPH RUDOMETKIN, 40, was planning another golf outing with his longtime friend, San Jose Supervisor Raul Peralez said he and his father.
“Now that will never happen again,” Peralez posted on Facebook. “My family and I have lost a longtime great friend and there are no words to describe the heartache we are feeling right now, especially for his family. Eight families are feeling this same sense of loss tonight and our entire community is mourning as well.”
LARS KEPLER LANE, 63, an overhead line worker, was his wife Vicki’s “soul mate” and the love of her life, she said.
Lane said her husband knew the shooter and described him as quiet.
“Why he had to shoot him I don’t know,” she said in an interview with San Francisco’s KGO-TV. “This just doesn’t seem real.” They were married 22 years. He leaves behind four children and a dog he doted on, she said.
Lars Lane joined the VTA in 2001 as an electro mechanic and then became an overhead line worker, said Glenn Hendricks, chair of the VTA’s board.
TIMOTHY MICHAEL ROMO, 49, was an overhead line worker at VTA for 20 years, Hendricks said.
He grew up in the Central Coast town of Greenfield, Calif., where his father, Mike Romo, was the mayor and police chief for many years.
A father of three, he was remembered by his children as smart, funny and someone who could fix anything, from a personal problem to a busted truck.
“He was my hero, my idol, everything I’ve ever wanted to be as a man, and he led by example,” said his son, Scott. “He was my Superman.”
His wife, Annette, told a news conference, “I only have a few words to say: Never leave home without giving your loved one a kiss goodbye. Because that was the last I got.”