Death toll rises to 9 as police search for motive in US shooting

The mass shooting in San Jose, California is at least the ninth deadly mass shooting in the US in three months.

An emergency responder stows a bomb squad robot following a shooting at a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) rail yard [Noah Berger/The Associated Press]

Police and federal investigators were determining on Thursday why a Northern California transit employee opened fire on his co-workers, as the death toll rose to nine people in the latest mass shooting to haunt the United States.

The accused gunman shot himself as police closed in on him, minutes after gunfire erupted at about 6:30am local time (13:30 GMT) at a light rail yard in the heart of Silicon Valley on Wednesday, according to Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith.

While police did not publicly name the gunman, the San Jose Mercury News and other news media identified him as Samuel Cassidy, 57, a maintenance worker at the yard.

Firefighters responded to a fire at a home where the suspect lived at about the same time that the shooting was first reported. A police bomb squad searched the rail yard and adjacent buildings after an explosive device was found.

Police declined to speculate on a motive for the shooting rampage, saying that their work at the scene could take several days, assisted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

However, the gunman’s ex-wife, Cecilia Nelms, told the Associated Press news agency that Cassidy had talked about killing people at work more than a decade ago.

“I never believed him, and it never happened. Until now,” a tearful Nelms told the news agency.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference that the massacre was a symptom of a larger American problem.

“It begs the damn question, What the hell is going on in the United States of America? What the hell is wrong with us and when are we going to come to grips with this?” Newsom said.

A White House spokeswoman told reporters that the shooting was further evidence that the United States was in the grip of an “epidemic of gun violence“.

President Joe Biden, in a statement, said the US had had “enough”.

“Once again, I urge Congress to take immediate action and heed the call of the American people, including the vast majority of gun owners, to help end this epidemic of gun violence in America,” he said. “Every life that is taken by a bullet pierces the soul of our nation. We can, and we must, do more.”

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The gunman and the nine victims shot dead were all employees of the transit agency situated near the city’s airport. The victims were found in two buildings on the site.

The County of Santa Clara medical examiner-coroner’s office identified the victims late on Wednesday. They appeared to all be men and ranged in age between 29 and 63: Paul Delacruz Megia, Taptejdeep Singh, Adrian Balleza, Jose Dejesus Hernandez III, Timothy Michael Romo, Michael Joseph Rudometkin, Abdolvahab Alaghmandan and Lars Kepler Lane.

The ninth victim, Alex Ward Fritch, 49, died late on Wednesday after he was taken to hospital in critical condition, the medical examiner’s office said, according to NBC Bay Area.

Cassidy had worked for the transit authority since at least 2012, when he was listed as an “electro-mechanic,” and was promoted to “substation maintainer” in 2015, according to records posted by the nonprofit website Transportation California.

Last year, he earned a salary of $102,000 plus benefits and $20,000 in overtime, the records showed.

The suspect and another individual filed domestic violence restraining orders against one another in 2009, three years after Cassidy and his wife divorced, according to court records.

San Jose is a city of about one million people in Silicon Valley, a global technology hub and home to some of the US’s biggest tech companies.

Wednesday’s incident was the latest of at least nine deadly US mass shootings in the past three months, including a string of attacks at Atlanta-area day spas in mid-March and a rampage days later that killed 10 at a Colorado supermarket.

Last month, a former employee of an Indianapolis FedEx centre shot eight workers to death before taking his own life. Earlier this month a man fatally shot his girlfriend and five other people before taking his own life at a birthday party in Colorado.

Source: News Agencies