SAN JOSE, Calif — A gunman who killed nine people at a California rail yard appeared to target some of the victims, a sheriff told The Associated Press on Thursday, while a Biden administration official said he spoke of hating his workplace when customs officers detained him after a 2016 trip to the Philippines.
The shooter arrived at the light rail facility for the Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose around 6 a.m. Wednesday with a duffel bag filled with semi-automatic handguns and high-capacity magazines, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith said in an interview.
“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 captured him moving from one location to the next. It took deputies six minutes from the first 911 calls to find the gunman on the third floor of one of the buildings, Smith said.
He killed himself as deputies closed in on the facility serving the county of more than 1 million people in the heart of Silicon Valley. More than 100 people were there at the time, and authorities found five victims in one building and two in another, Smith said.
Authorities do not yet know whether the gunman had worked regularly with any of the victims. Investigators were serving search warrants for his home and cellphone, seeking to determine what prompted the bloodshed, the sheriff said.
“I’m not sure we’ll ever actually find the real motive, but we’ll piece it together as much as we can from witnesses,” she said.
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 AP on condition of anonymity.
Cassidy had a memo book with notes on how he hated the Valley Transportation Authority, according to a Biden administration official who described a Department of Homeland Security memo that laid out Cassidy's statements. The official saw the memo and detailed its contents to The Associated Press but was not authorized to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation.
The memo said he had books about “terrorism and fear and manifestos" but when he was asked whether he had issues with people at work he said no.
The memo doesn’t say why he was stopped after his 2016 trip. It notes that Cassidy had a “minor criminal history” and cites a 1983 incident where he was arrested in San Jose and charged with “misdemeanor obstruction/resisting a peace officer.”
Cassidy's ex-wife said he had talked about killing people at work more than a decade ago.
“I never believed him, and it never happened. Until now," a tearful Cecilia Nelms told the AP on Wednesday.
She 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 had not been in touch with Cassidy for about 13 years, Nelms said.
The three handguns he had appear to be legal, sheriff’s officials said. Authorities do not yet know how he obtained them.
He also had 11 high-capacity magazines, each with 12 rounds. In California, it is illegal to buy magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. However, if Cassidy had obtained them before Jan. 1, 2000, he would be allowed to have them unless he was otherwise prohibited from possessing firearms.
The sheriff said authorities found explosives at the gunman’s home, where investigators believe he had set a timer or slow-burn device so that a fire would occur at the same time as the shooting. Flames were reported minutes after the first 911 calls came in from the rail facility.
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.”
The shooting killed employees who had been bus and light rail operators, mechanics, linemen and an assistant superintendent over the course of their careers.
They were Alex Ward Fritch, 49; 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.
Family and friends remembered Singh as a hero. He called another transit employee to warn him about Cassidy, saying he needed to get out or hide.
“He told me he was with Paul, another victim, at the time,” co-worker Sukhvir Singh, who is not related to Taptejdeep Singh, 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 had worked as a light rail train driver for eight or nine years and had a wife and two small children, said his cousin, Bagga Singh.
“We heard that he chose the people to shoot, but I don’t know why they chose him because he has nothing to do with him,” Bagga Singh said.
A solemn and tearful moment of silence was held Thursday by transit authority officials, who read the names of the nine victims aloud and stood beside a giant poster board with their photos.
The reality of the loss was hard to accept, said Raul Peralez, a San Jose councilman and transit authority board member who was a lifelong friend of Rudometkin, one of the victims.
“I, unfortunately, get 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,” he said.
A vigil for the victims was planned Thursday evening in San Jose.
Meanwhile, 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 said in a sworn statement filed after Cassidy sought a restraining order against her. The documents were obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle.
The AP 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 maintaining substations.
Associated Press journalists Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco, Martha Mendoza in Santa Cruz, John Antczak in Los Angeles, and Michael Balsamo and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.