SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Teary-eyed officials from the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) and the city of San Jose gathered in front of its headquarters Thursday morning to memorialize the nine workers killed in a mass shooting the day before.
SPECIAL SECTION: San Jose VTA Shooting
In somber voices, administrators, board members and fellow employees cried and spoke fondly of the crew members shot to death by former VTA worker Samuel Cassidy. The incident was the deadliest shooting in San Francisco Bay Area since 1993.
- HOW TO HELP THE VICTIMS: Where to donate to help the families of VTA shooting victims
The victims, who were identified Wednesday evening, range in age from 29 to 63. They were:
Paul Delacruz Megia, 42
Taptejdeep Singh, 36
Adrian Balleza, 29
Jose Dejesus Hernandez III, 35
Timothy Michael Romo, 49
Michael Joseph Rudometkin, 40
Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, 63
Lars Kepler Lane, 63
Alex Ward Fritch, 49
The event began with VTA Board chair Glenn Hendricks, who struggled to hold back tears while he spoke.
“Many of you have reported the names of the employees who were lost. To us here at VTA they’re our friends and our family, and we want to honor their memory,” Hendricks said. “I have spoken to all nine families. I’m not going to go into detail about the calls, but all the families are in pain and we are here to help.”
“All families are in pain, but we are here to help,” Hendricks continued. “We want all of our employees to know we are grieving together and we want to do everything that we possibly can to support each other. If today or in the coming days, you need to stop, talk to coworker or take some quiet time, do it. Whatever your emotions — the pain, sorrow, anger, love, questions — these are all normal. But please reach out to someone if you want help to process that are going on in your heart and in your head.”
Later, incoming VTA General Manager Carolyn Gonot spoke, expressing sympathy for a team she plans to join next month.
“I’m confident the VTA employees will be strong and will come together in the wake of this horrific event,” Gonot said.
“I was at the Family Assistance Center and I saw the aftermath and I saw the immense pain in the faces of the families and I heard their cries when they got the news. And it was utterly heart wrenching,” said VTA General Counsel Evelyn Trent.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo also spoke with emotion showing on his face and in his voice. He acknowledged the pain of the employees while also thanking the public for the outpouring of support, both through kinds words and donations to the victims’ fund at Working Partnerships USA.
“As the numbness wears off for many of us, a dark reality has set in,” Liccardo said. “I am heartened and emboldened by incredible acts of courage, compassion and support we’ve seen from so many members of the VTA family … It’s something I think that gives us all reason to believe that we can together forge ahead on this difficult path of healing, and do all we must do to support families who have lost loved ones and co-workers who have lost friends.”
Liccardo also announced a public vigil for the victims at 6 p.m. Thursday in front of City Hall. Caltrain will provide free fares on the 260 and 264 trains at 5:09 p.m. and 5:39 p.m., but riders must tell the train conductor that they are attending the vigil.
There is already a growing memorial to the victims at City Hall Plaza that started Wednesday. People are leaving flowers, notes, signs and even Sharks jerseys, because these were the people who would take them to SAP Center for Sharks games and bring them home.
“When I heard the news, it’s just…my heart breaks. It’s just a tragedy, said regular VTA rider Matthew Lesnikoski.
As the shock of Wednesday’s shooting sinks in for San Jose residents, it leaves behind it a sadness felt by the entire community.
“This hits so close to home. My kids are essential workers,” said one woman paying her respects at the memorial.
“I worry everyday about this kind of thing happening, so this is just a nightmare. I woke up, like…wow,” said San Jose resident Ruth Martinez.
VTA workers are their own tight-knit group, but through their jobs, they touch the lives of countless people across across the city.
And many of them like Lesnikoski, on Thursday were feeling the ripple effects of the tragic shooting.
“I have a really good life today. And if it wasn’t for the people who kept the public transit going, I wouldn’t have been able to get to the companies that have given me all that I have today,” said Lesnikoski.
VTA officials did not provide any updates on the criminal investigation into why 57-year-old Cassidy set his house on fire before returning to his former workplace to fatally shoot nine co-workers before killing himself.
Liccardo told CNN the day before that the gunman was no stranger to the people he shot.
“It’s clear the victims and all the colleagues knew the shooter well,” Liccardo said.
Emily Turner contributed to this story.