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Sheriff: Gunman appeared to target some victims at rail yard

By Terence Chea, Janie Har and Stefanie Dazio Associated Press

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A gunman who killed nine people at a California rail yard fired 39 shots and appeared to target some of the victims, a sheriff told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith said the shooter told at least one person: “I’m not going to shoot you” at a light rail facility for the Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose. He then shot other people with two semi-automatic handguns Wednesday.

He later killed himself as deputies closed in to the rail yard serving the county of more than 1 million people in the heart of Silicon Valley. More than 100 people were in the facility at the time.

Investigators were serving search warrants on the gunman’s home and cellphone, seeking to determine what prompted the bloodshed, Smith said.

She said he also appeared to have set a timer or slow-burn device to set his home on fire. The fire was reported minutes after the first 911 calls came in from the rail facility.

“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,” the sheriff said in an interview.

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.

His 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 Associated Press 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 hadn’t been in touch with Cassidy for about 13 years, Nelms said.

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

The death toll rose from eight after officials confirmed the death late Wednesday of 49-year-old Alex Ward Fritch, who had been hospitalized in critical condition after the attack.

It 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 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 also spoke emotionally Wednesday 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 told reporters. “It begs the damn question of what the hell is going on in the United States of America?”

The shooting took place about 6:30 a.m. 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.

“When our deputies went through the door, initially he was still firing rounds. When our deputy saw him, he took his life,” Smith, the sheriff, told reporters Wednesday.

The other victims 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 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.

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 maintaining substations.

Officials investigated a house fire that broke out shortly before the shooting, sheriff’s Deputy Russell Davis said. Public records show Cassidy owned the two-story home where firefighters responded after being notified by a passerby.

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.