SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) — Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority employees gathered at sunrise for a somber ceremony in the San Jose rail yard to mark the one-year anniversary of the worst mass shooting in Bay Area history.
“It is a day none of us will forget,” said VTA general manager Carolyn Gonot said Thursday as victims’ family members cried at the candlelight ceremony.
Nine VTA employees were killed by a disgruntled co-worker who opened fire inside a break room of the Guadalupe Division on May 26, 2021. Last week bulldozers razed the building that VTA workers were too traumatized to walk back into.
The nine men killed were: Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, 63, Adrian Balleza, 29, Alex Ward Fritch, 49, Jose Hernandez, 35, Lars Kepler Lane, 63, Michael Rudometkin, 40, Paul Megia, 42, Taptejdeep Singh, 36, and Timothy Romo, 49. A tenth VTA employee, Henry Gonzales, killed himself just months after witnessing the horrific tragedy.
Mayor Sam Liccardo said, “One year ago, San Jose woke to what would become our city’s darkest day. May 26, 2021 irrevocably changed San Jose.”
The mass shooting left behind trauma within the VTA workforce, as well as unanswered questions about why a hostile employee was allowed to keep coming back to work even after red flags were raised. One of his co-workers feared he would “go postal.”
Union president John Courtney said the VTA’s workplace culture has a long way to go.
“Systemically we face a monster, a monster at VTA that wasn’t created overnight,” Courtney said.
The transportation agency’s management needs to take action help employees feel safe when they go to work every day, he said. The VTA has plans to bring in a third-party workplace culture consultant.
“It’s not going to be fixed in a year, but … it’s going to be fixed if it’s the last thing that we do,” Courtney said.
Courtney was in the break room when Samuel James Cassidy’s shooting spree began.
“I was in a room where six of my friends were brutally murdered,” Courtney said.
The gunman shot himself as law enforcement officers rushed into the building.
Courtney said his voice shakes when he talks about what happened.
“I was taught to speak the truth even if your voice shakes,” Courtney said. “I do believe we are headed in the right direction.”
He said healing will come from actions by VTA management and unions that support and protect employees.
“Making sure that when our employees wake up in the morning to come to work, that they know they are not going to be harmed or assaulted. And if that does happen, our employer will do the right thing morally and ethically and protect them,” Courtney said.
“We have a long path ahead,” he added.
Just hours after Thursday’s ceremony, Lars Kepler Lane’s family announced it filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the VTA, the Santa Clara County Sheriff, and private security company Universal Protection Service.
“From VTA to the Sheriff to the security company, too many people failed to do their jobs, and my family has been left to pick up the pieces,” said Vicki Lane, the victim’s widow.
In spite of a pattern of insubordination, four heated altercations with co-workers, and fears among staff that Cassidy would “go postal,” the VTA failed to investigate, discipline, or terminate him, according to the lawsuit.
The Lane family’s attorney, Eva Silva, said, “By failing to act, VTA gave a man with known and dangerous propensities access to 379 employees at the yard. Nine of them are dead as a result.”
Cassidy was armed with three semi-automatic handguns and high capacity magazines.
Cassidy had depression and anger issues that he’d verbally unleash at home, his ex-wife, Cecelia Nelms, told KRON4 last year.
The VTA, Santa Clara County Sheriff, and FBI have all conducted investigators over the past year digging into what led up to the workplace shooting. None of the agencies have publicly released results from their investigations.