They were more than just names.
To the hundreds who gathered in front of San Jose City Hall Thursday evening, the nine Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority workers who were killed in what has become the Bay Area’s deadliest mass shooting were family members, friends, colleagues, and essential workers.
“These are people we know and we love, and we’ve seen every single day of our working lives,” said John Courtney, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local #265. “It really, really hurts down to the very core of our souls.”
On Wednesday morning, 57-year-old VTA maintenance worker Samuel Cassidy shot and killed nine men at the transit agency’s rail yard in San Jose before killing himself. At the scene, investigators found three semi-automatic 9mm handguns with 32 high-capacity magazines.
The victims –– all VTA employees –– have been confirmed by the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner as Paul Delacruz Meiga, 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.
The nine men were honored and remembered throughout Thursday’s vigil with words from family members and elected officials, and songs and prayers from religious leaders.
“We’re here because members of our community, our colleagues, our family members, our friends, our loved ones are suffering, and each of us feels our own pain, as well,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo told the packed crowd of mourners, many of whom donned VTA uniforms or ATU Local #265 shirts. “We’re here to share our pain. We’re here to share our love, to share our support for each other in the difficult days ahead.”
Many of the other speakers shared similar messages of love and healing, including Bishop Oscar Cantú of the Diocese of San Jose. The Catholic priest also recollected the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting two years prior where a gunman opened fire, killing three and injuring 17 others.
“The phrase that kept coming to me two years ago and comes back to me now is that we are brothers and sisters to one another,” he said. “We are each other’s keepers. I don’t care what color we are on the outside, we all cry tears that are salty and we all bleed red. We are members of the same human family, no matter how we worship, or if we don’t worship, we have human dignity.”
San Jose Councilman Raul Peralez lost his friend, Rudometkin, in the shooting. Peralez and his father had been planning a golf day “reunion” with the VTA technician.
“This has been tremendously difficult to represent this community and to also be feeling the pain that so many families, friends, and loved ones are feeling today,” he said. “My heart goes out to all of you. I see so many VTA employees out here with us today, and I know how tremendously difficult it is for you.”
Henry Martinez was one of the many VTA employees at the vigil. He met Balleza — the youngest of the victims — seven years ago when they were both starting out.
“Adrian, he was a character,” Martinez said. “Really, really sweetheart of a guy. I can’t believe he’s gone.”
Leonard Megia, a 32-year VTA veteran and the father of Paul Delacruz Megia, said he and his son would wave at each other as they crossed paths on their route—the elder Megia on the bus, the younger on the light rail.
“It was a happy time,” he said through tears. “But yesterday was the saddest moment of my life. My son was a good father. He took care of all his kids, took them on vacation. They loved him, and he loved them. I’m going to miss him.”
Working Partnerships, a San Jose-based nonprofit and grassroots organization, has set up a fund to help those affected by the shooting. Donations can be made online or by check.