In downtown San Jose, in the crowded plaza of city hall, hundreds of mourning families, local residents and Bay Area light rail employees laid flowers in front of nine framed pictures.
It was a scene erected to honor those killed at a rail maintenance yard on Wednesday, the worst mass shooting in the Bay Area’s history.
At a vigil in San Jose on Thursday night, uniformed union members hugged and cried on each other’s shoulders. Some handed out T-shirts emblazoned with the faces of those who were gunned down. A single candle was lit as each name was read by San Jose’s mayor, Sam Liccardo.
“We’re here because our colleagues, family members and friends are suffering,” said Liccardo, addressing a gathered crowd of several hundred people. “Healing for many will be a long, difficult path. We’re here to express our commitment to walk with our forlorn family on that long journey.”
John Costa, the president of the union that the slain rail workers belonged to, offered words to remember the victims: 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; and Alex Ward Fritch, 49.
“I want to send a message that we have to honor our brothers today and not forget what happened here,” Costa said.
The shooting unfolded on Wednesday when a 57-year-old employee of the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) walked into a facility and opened fire, killing nine of his coworkers.
Law enforcement officials have described the gunman, identified as Samuel Cassidy, as a “highly disgruntled” employee, while Cassidy’s ex-wife has spoken of a history of mental health and violent behavior.
Costa addressed the need to have honest conversations about mental health and wellness among workers. “We can’t sweep this under the rug. We need to do the right thing and talk about this and recognize this mental illness and worker violence. We can do better than this!”
The crowd was peppered with people holding framed photos as silent tears and soft sniffles spread through the sea of mourners. The families of Singh, Delacruz Megia and Romo each spoke to the audience in the city hall plaza, expressing their love for their deceased fathers, sons, and brothers.
Delacruz Megia’s father, Leonard Megia, has worked for VTA for 20 years and smiled through teary eyes as he recalled the precious moments that he and his son, who began working for the transit agency full-time in 2012, would wave as they passed each other on their respective routes.
“Yesterday was the saddest moment of my life up to now. We really enjoyed seeing each other. I would be on the light rail and he would be on the bus. I’m gonna miss him so much,” Megia said.
The 10 deaths, including the gunman, makes San Jose the site of the Bay Area’s most deadly mass shooting, topping a 1993 massacre at a San Francisco-based law firm. It comes as the region, like many others in the country, has seen a surge in gun violence in recent months.
This increase has been especially troubling in cities like Oakland that have become national models for successful, community-based gun violence reduction programs. Some of the most recent tragedies include two teenage girls who were shot when the party bus they were riding in was ambushed by a hail of bullets. Two days earlier two 17-year-old boys’ lives were cut short at a park.
Following the shooting, Joe Biden ordered the White House flag to be lowered to half-staff to mark the losses of life. Dozens of federal, state and local officials tweeted condolences that have become routine following a high-profile mass shooting in this country. Many of these lamentations also included calls for congressional action on new gun restrictions.
But for the colleagues and families of the deceased, any form of healing was far off. Access to mental healthcare was a consistent theme in remarks made by union leadership both as a way to prevent future shootings and as an integral piece of a family’s healing journeys.
“Be there, hold each other, love each other, we’re all we’ve got and we’re all we need,” said John Courtney, who leads the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union, and was at the San Jose facility when shots began to ring out. “These aren’t just names to us, they’re people we know and have seen every day of our working lives. This gets down to the core of our souls.”