Killer of 9 at Calif. rail yard had talked of workplace attacks

"I never believed him, and it never happened. Until now," said the man's ex-wife


By Jocelyn Gecker and Martha Mendoza
Associated Press

SAN JOSE, Calif. — An employee who gunned down nine people at a California rail yard and then killed himself as law enforcement rushed in had talked about killing people at work more than a decade ago, his ex-wife said.

“I never believed him, and it never happened. Until now," a tearful Cecilia Nelms told The Associated Press on Wednesday following the 6:30 a.m. attack at a light rail facility for the Valley Transportation Authority.

Law enforcement officers respond to the scene of a shooting at a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) facility on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, in San Jose, Calif.
Law enforcement officers respond to the scene of a shooting at a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) facility on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

“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.

The gunman had two semiautomatic handguns and 11 loaded magazines, the sheriff told NBC’s “Today” show on Thursday. A locker at the rail yard believed to be the gunman’s contained “materials for bombs, detonator cords, the precursors to an explosive,” Smith said.

The number of people fatally shot by the gunman rose from eight after the Santa Clara County’s medical examiner-coroner late Wednesday confirmed the death of Alex Ward Fritch, 49. He had been wounded and hospitalized in critical condition after the attack.

The sheriff's office is next door to the rail yard, which serves the county of more than 1 million people in the heart of the Silicon Valley.

The attacker was identified as 57-year-old Samuel Cassidy, according to two law enforcement officials who were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Investigators offered no immediate word on a possible motive but his ex-wife said he used to come home from work resentful and angry over what he perceived as unfair assignments.

“He could dwell on things," she said. The two were married for about 10 years until a 2005 divorce filing and she hadn't been in touch with Cassidy for about 13 years, Nelms said.

It was the 15th mass killing in the nation this year, all of them shootings that have 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.

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.

Gov. Gavin Newsom visited the site and then spoke emotionally about the country's latest mass killing.

“There’s a numbness some of us are feeling about this. There’s a sameness to this,” he said. “It begs the damn question of what the hell is going on in the United States of America?”

Members of a union representing Valley Transportation Authority workers were meeting when the shooting began, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said, but it’s not clear the meeting was related to the attack.

The shooting took place in two buildings and killed employees who had been bus and light rail operators, mechanics, linemen and an assistant superintendent over the course of their careers. One had worked for the agency since 1999.

Eight victims identified earlier were Paul Delacruz Megia, 42; Taptejdeep Singh, 36; Adrian Balleza, 29; Jose Dejesus Hernandez, 35; Timothy Michael Romo, 49; Michael Joseph Rudometkin, 40; Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, 63, and Lars Kepler Lane, 63.

Singh had worked as a light rail train driver for eight or nine years and had a wife, two small children and many family members, said his cousin, Bagga Singh.

“We heard that he chose the people to shoot, but I don’t know why they choose him because he has nothing to do with him,” he said.

San Jose City Councilman Raul Peralez said Rudometkin was a close friend.

“There are no words to describe the heartache we are feeling right now, especially for his family,” he wrote on Facebook. “Eight families are feeling this same sense of loss tonight and our entire community is mourning as well.”

There was nothing in public records to indicate Cassidy ever got in trouble with the law. He received a traffic ticket in 2019 and sheriff's officials said they were still investigating his background.

But in court documents filed in 2009, an ex-girlfriend described him as volatile and violent, with major mood swings because of bipolar disorder that became worse when he drank heavily.

Several times while he was drunk, Cassidy forced himself on her sexually despite her refusals, pinning her arms with his body weight, the woman alleged in a sworn statement filed after Cassidy sought a restraining order against her. The documents were obtained by The San Francisco Chronicle.

The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted.

Cassidy had worked for Valley Transportation Authority since at least 2012, according to the public payroll and pension database Transparent California, first as a mechanic from 2012 to 2014, then as someone who maintained substations.

Officials also were investigating a house fire that broke out shortly before the shooting, Davis said. Public records show Cassidy owned the two-story home where firefighters responded after being notified by a passerby. Law enforcement officers cordoned off the area near the home and went in and out Wednesday.

The gunman probably "set some kind of a device to go off at a certain time probably to coincide with the shooting,” the sheriff told “Today.”

Doug Suh, who lives across the street, told The Mercury News in San Jose that Cassidy seemed “strange” and that he never saw anyone visit.

“I’d say hello, and he’d just look at me without saying anything,” Suh said. Once, Cassidy yelled at him to stay away as he was backing up his car. “After that, I never talked to him again.”

Wednesday’s attack was the deadliest shooting in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1993, when a gunman attacked law offices in San Francisco’s Financial District, killing eight people before taking his own life.

It also was Santa Clara County’s second mass shooting in less than two years. A gunman killed three people and then himself at a popular garlic festival in Gilroy in July 2019.

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