May 27, 2021 7:43:12 am
An employee opened fire on Wednesday at a California rail yard, killing eight people before taking his own life as law enforcement rushed in, authorities said, marking the latest attack in a year that has seen a sharp increase in mass killings as the US emerges from coronavirus restrictions.
The shooting took place around 6.30 am in two buildings that are part of a light rail facility for the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), which provides bus, light rail and other transit services throughout Santa Clara County, the most populated county in the San Francisco Bay Area. The facility includes a transit-control centre, parking for trains and a maintenance yard.
“When our deputies went through the door, initially he was still firing rounds. When our deputy saw him, he took his life,” Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith told reporters. Deputies “were going through hallways saying, Sheriff’s office!’ He knew at that time that his time for firing shots was over”.
A man who was wounded is in critical condition at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, according to spokesperson Joy Alexiou.
The attacker was identified as 57-year-old Sam Cassidy, according to two law enforcement officials. Investigators offered no immediate word on a possible motive.
Sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Russell Davis said he did not know the type of weapon used in the attack. Bomb squads were searching the entire rail complex after receiving information about possible explosive devices, he said.
Authorities did not identify any of the victims, who included VTA employees.
“These folks were heroes during Covid-19. The buses never stopped running. VTA did not stop running. They just kept at work and now we are really calling on them to be heroes a second time to survive such a terrible, terrible tragedy,” county Supervisor Cindy Chavez said.
District Attorney Jeff Rosen said it was his understanding that the shooting occurred during a meeting.
Grief-stricken families sat huddled together after learning they had lost a loved one, Rosen told reporters, describing the scene inside a county building.
“They are just sitting and holding hands and crying,” Rosen said. “It is terrible. It is awful. It is raw. People are learning they lost their husband, their son, their brother.” He said about 100 people were inside a family reunification centre.
Police vehicles and crime-scene tape blocked off the area, and reporters were kept at a distance from the rail yard, which is near city and count government buildings and the sheriff’s office.
Officials were also investigating a house fire that broke out shortly before the shooting, Davis said. Public records show Cassidy owned a two-story home where firefighters responded. Fire crews found a fast-moving blaze after being notified by a passer-by. A neighbouring house also caught fire, authorities said.
Cassidy had worked for the VTA since at least 2012, according to the public payroll and pension database known as Transparent California. His position from 2012 to 2014 was listed as a mechanic. After that, he was a substation maintainer, the records said.
Trains were already out on morning runs when the shooting occurred. Light rail service was suspended and replaced with bus bridges, agency chairman Glenn Hendricks told reporters.
“It is just very difficult for everyone to be able try to wrap their heads around and understand what has happened,” Hendricks said.
Outside the scene, Michael Hawkins told The Mercury News that he was waiting for his mother, Rochelle Hawkins, who had called him from a co-worker’s phone to assure him that she was safe.
When the shooting started, “she got down with the rest of her co-workers” and dropped her cell phone, he told the newspaper. Rochelle Hawkins did not see the shooter and she was not sure how close she had been to the attacker, her son said.
Governor Gavin Newsom spoke emotionally in front of a county office where flags flew at half-staff. He said victims’ relatives were “waiting to hear from the coroner, waiting to hear from any of us, just desperate to find out if their brother, their son, their dad, their mom is still alive”.
The bloodshed comes amid a rise in mass killings after the pandemic closed many public places and kept people confined to their homes last year.
A database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University that tracks every mass killing over the last 15 years shows that the San Jose attack is the 15th mass killing so far in 2021, all of them shootings.
Eighty-six people have died in the shootings, compared with 106 for all of 2020. It is the sixth mass killing in a public place in 2021. The database defines mass killings as four people dead, not including the shooter, meaning the overall toll of gun violence is much higher when adding in smaller incidents.
At the White House, President Joe Biden ordered flags to be flown at half-staff and urged Congress to act on legislation to curb gun violence.
“Every life that is taken by a bullet pierces the soul of our nation. We can, and we must, do more,” Biden said in a statement.
San Jose, the 10th-largest city in the US with more than a million people, is about 50 miles (80 kilometres) south of San Francisco in the heart of Silicon Valley.
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