Report: Santa Clara VTA had no knowledge or warning of mass shooting

Dec. 13, 2022
The suspect was described as unpleasant and unfriendly but had not made direct threats indicating there was a mass shooting being planned.

One of the big questions left after a suspect opened fire at Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s (VTA) Guadalupe Yard on May 26, 2021, leaving nine VTA employees plus the suspect dead, was did the authority have information that a mass shooting was being planned? An independent investigative report, released by the authority on Dec. 12, provides a direct and single-word answer: No.

“There were no reports made to VTA that would have put VTA on notice that [the suspect] might engage in violent behavior. There is no evidence that any VTA employee or supervisor had prior knowledge that [the suspect] was planning a shooting in the workplace that could have been prevented by VTA,” Morin I. Jacob, the labor and employment attorney tasked with conducting the independent investigation, wrote in the report.

Santa Clara Chief of External Affairs Jim Lawson spoke at a press conference ahead of the report’s release and recognized the five documented incidents of misconduct by the suspect. However, Lawson explained none of the infractions, individually or taken together, would have been sufficient to terminate employment of the suspect or warrant serious discipline.

Lawson noted the suspect was descripted as unpleasant and unfriendly, but he did not issue threats.

“We can not act on what somebody thinks somebody might do,” Lawson said.

The report

Santa Clara VTA retained an independent investigator to assess what, if anything, the authority could have or should have done to prevent the May 26, 2021, shooting. What the report, as well as the authority, emphasize is the investigation is not a criminal investigation, a root cause analysis or a psychological evaluation.

Santa Clara VTA allowed all witnesses to participate in the investigation. However, Lawson recognized the trauma experienced by witnesses and explained the authority did not force participation on any witness.

The investigator interviewed 47 witnesses and reviewed files and documents pertaining to the incident.

The final report was submitted to the Santa Clara VTA Board, which then made its findings public.

“This board is committed to transparency, and we felt releasing the findings was important,” said Santa Clara VTA Board Chair Chappie Jones.

Moving forward

Lawson says the authority is focused on areas where it can “do the most good,” which includes adding mental health resources, supporting access to these services through the establishment of the 526 Resiliency Center and continuing to focus on culture and climate change.

“Like so many of my colleagues, I was incredibly shocked and heartbroken by this horrific event,” said VTA General Manager Carolyn Gonot. “We’ve taken what happened to heart and are implementing changes to try to prevent something like this from ever happening again.”

The authority says the board of directors also provided additional benefits to the victims’ families to help them cope with their tragic loss. The authority demolished the primary buildings where the tragedy occurred and is now planning for permanent memorials on, and around, that site as part of the healing process.

“VTA will continue to work to honor those who lost their lives and to ensure we have a workplace where everyone can feel safe and be safe,” Gonot said.

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.