Tragedy at Santa Clara VTA light-rail yard

May 26, 2021
A shooting early Wednesday morning at Santa Clara VTA’s Guadalupe yard has left nine dead, in addition to the gunman.

San Jose, Calif., a city that has consistently ranked among the safest municipalities in the U.S., had its sense of calm shattered Wednesday morning when a shooter opened fire at a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light-rail yard and dispatching facility leaving nine people, plus the shooter, dead.

The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department confirmed the suspect was a Santa Clara VTA employee and he died due to a self-inflicted gunshot. Law enforcement identified the suspect as Samuel Cassidy, a substation maintainer with the authority. He is also suspected of setting fire to his home shortly before the shooting began, leaving investigators to evaluate two separate scenes as they work to piece together what led up to the shooting and why it occurred.

Santa Clara VTA issued a press release that read in part:

“Earlier this morning, a tragedy took place at our VTA Guadalupe Light Rail Yard. An active shooter incident occurred at approximately 6:30 a.m. It remains an active and extremely fluid situation, and the Santa Clara County Sheriff and multiple law enforcement agencies are on scene and investigating.”

The victims have been identified as:

​​​​​Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, age 63

Adrian Balleza, age 29

Alex Ward Fritch, age 49

Jose Dejesus Hernandez III, age 35

Lars Kepler Lane, age 63

Michael Joseph Rudometkin, age 40

Paul Delacruz Megia, age 42

Taptejdeep Singh, age 36

Timothy Michael Romo, age 49 

The authority is making grief counselors available to employees. Santa Clara VTA also said the victims' families are being provided with every resource the authority has available. 

"We do not have the words to express the weight of this moment. We are grateful to our community for their love and support as we mourn the loss of nine victims of the horrific event of Wednesday, May 26, 2021," the authority said. 

Santa Clara VTA suspended light-rail service at noon Pacific Time on May 26. While the light-rail trains had been moved out the of yard for the morning, prior to the start of the shooting, the facility also houses the light-rail dispatching center. The shutdown is expected to extend several days to allow investigators to safety conduct their work. Buses are being brought in to provide service.

Press Information Officer Stacey Hendler Ross told a May 27 press conference, Santa Clara VTA had accepted the help of SamTrans and AC Transit to provide additional bus operators to cover the additional bus service. 

It has been reported an explosives dog alerted handlers to possible bomb making elements at the light-rail yard, which slowed  investigators access to the scene because the yard and its facilities had to be cleared to ensure safety. Santa Clara VTA said it secured its three additional yards and headquarters and "out of an abundance of caution" had security teams perform a sweep of all authority facilities with bomb sniffing dogs.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo called the shooting a “dark moment for the city and community.”

Santa Clara VTA Board Member Cindy Chavez said, “These folks were heroes during COVID-19 and now we’re calling on them to be heroes again.”

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) International President John A. Costa issued a statement that said, “We are shocked and deeply saddened by the multiple fatalities and injuries at a shooting today at a VTA rail facility in San Jose, Calif. Our hearts and prayers are with our sisters, brothers and their families at Amalgamated Transit Union Local 265 in San Jose. We are working to provide support and assistance to the victims’ families, and everyone impacted by this tragic event.”

Transit industry reacts

Support has flooded in from transportation and transit officials expressing condolences for Santa Clara VTA and its employees.

The Federal Transit Administration tweeted a statement from Deputy Administrator Nuria Fernandez in which she said, “I am deeply saddened to learn of a fatal shooting this morning at a [Santa Clara VTA] light-rail facility. We offer our heartfelt condolences to the families of the employees lost in this tragedy and the entire VTA community.”

Deputy Administrator Fernandez served as general manager of the authority before leaving in January 2021 to join the Biden-Harris Administration.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg also issued a tweet that said, “My heart breaks for the families and colleagues of those lost in today's shooting at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority light rail operations facility. Transit workers have kept the traveling public safe this past year—we must do the same for them.”

Bay Area transit agencies, including Bay Area Rapid Transit, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, SamTrans, Golden Gate Transit and AC Transit all expressed condolences and offered their support to their Santa Clara VTA colleagues.

Additionally, leaders from transit systems across the nation took to social media to recognize the tragedy including Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority President and CEO Randy Clarke and Regional Transportation District of Denver CEO and General Manager Debra Johnson, who added #TransitStandsTogether.

President Joe Biden has ordered flags to be flown at half staff as a mark of respect for the victims and a vigil is being planned for Thursday, May 27 at 6 p.m., at San Jose City Hall Plaza. 

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This is a developing story and will be updated as new information is made available.

Story updated 5/27/21 7:45 am to include names of victims. 

Story has been updated 5/26/21 8:30 pm to incorporate Santa Clara VTA's afternoon statement. 

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.