By Aara Ramesh
As the dust settles, more details are emerging about the past of the gunman who killed nine people and then himself in San Jose on Wednesday, May 26, in what is the Bay Area’s deadliest mass shooting. Samuel Cassidy, identified by the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Office as the killer, is reported to have had a history of alcohol abuse, sexual assault and rage against his coworkers, according to authorities.
Early Wednesday morning, Cassidy entered the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) rail yard near downtown San Jose, firing 39 times and killing nine of his co-workers. Law enforcement responded within minutes, and as they closed in, Cassidy turned the gun on himself.
It has become almost familiar for law enforcement, elected officials and the public to engage in a post-mortem after incidents like this, looking for warning signs or previous brushes with police. In Cassidy’s case, questions have emerged as to how he managed to circumvent California’s tough gun laws, his motivations and what made him “snap.”
Experts point out that gunmen who carry out mass shootings “very rarely … snap.” There are usually warning signs, be they clues that the attacker themselves leave, or through previous interactions with law enforcement or mental health professionals. Cassidy, however, does not seem to have a criminal public record, so he would likely have passed a background check, which may have been how he was able to legally obtain firearms.
The three handguns he used at the shooting were not “ghost” guns, according to authorities. They were legally obtained and part of his larger collection, which included shotguns and rifles, the Sheriff’s Office said. However, the 32 high-capacity magazines he brought along to the shooting are illegal under California’s strict gun regulations.
Those who knew Cassidy say that his unhappiness with his job as a VTA maintenance worker was well known. He often complained about his coworkers. Investigators described him as a “highly disgruntled” employee.
Cassidy’s ex-wife Cecilia Nelms spoke to the media about his history of troubling behavior and his antipathy towards the VTA. Nelms, who was married to Cassidy for about a decade until they divorced in 2005, says that her ex-husband frequently complained about his coworkers, saying, “I’m going to kill the son-of-a-gun” about someone or talking about wanting to “beat [someone] up.” She described his tirades as “enraged ranting,” seemingly stemming from a feeling that he was being given harder jobs than his coworkers.
Authorities have indicated that the victims, many of them long-term employees of the VTA, and Cassidy knew each other fairly well. There seems to be some indication, as well, that he was systematic in his attack, choosing who to shoot and even sparing one person. An unnamed source within the VTA alleges that Cassidy was facing a disciplinary hearing over his past conduct at work on Wednesday, May, 26, the same day as his rampage. This claim has not yet been verified by authorities. A VTA spokesperson refused to comment on whether Cassidy had a disciplinary record at work or whether any of his colleagues had ever reported him for unsettling behavior.
Nelms said that Cassidy never mentioned any specific names to her, nor did he ever say he wanted to shoot the coworkers he talked about. She added that he never spoke of guns and she didn’t even know he wanted to own any. Nelms, who has not spoken with Cassidy for over a decade, said she was struggling to reconcile the person she knew with the violent perpetrator on TV. She admitted, however, that he had “two sides.”
An ex-girlfriend of Cassidy’s in 2009 accused him of alcohol-fueled rape, sexual assault and “enraged” mood swings. In a sworn statement filed with a court, the unnamed woman, who was in a relationship with Cassidy for about a year, says he was violent and “forced himself on [her] sexually.” If she refused, he would restrain her. Cassidy had filed a domestic violence restraining order against the woman on the basis of harassment.
On Thursday, it emerged that the Department of Homeland Security had previously circulated a memo about Cassidy when he was stopped and questioned by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) five years ago. In 2016, on his way back from a trip to the Philippines, CBP flagged him off after they found a number of troubling items in his possession, including books and “manifestos” about terrorism and “fear,” and a small notebook holding rants of hiw much he hated his workplace. When asked, however, Cassidy reportedly told them that he did not have problems with anyone at work.
Though the memo does not specify why he was stopped, it does mention a “minor criminal history” and 1983 misdemeanor charge for “obstruction/resisting a peace officer” in San Jose. A Biden official admitted that they knew about the DHS memo, while the FBI said they had never investigated Cassidy. The Santa Clara Sheriff’s Office did not comment on whether Cassidy was on their radar or whether they had ever investigated him.
Preliminary evidence from Cassidy’s home has allegedly yielded bomb-making materials, and there are signs that he hoarded weapons and ammunition. Before he left for the rail yard, he rigged up his house to explode, using a timer. The house caught fire just as 911 calls were coming in about the shooting at the VTA facility. There are signs that ammunition inside his house exploded, collapsing the second floor. This has complicated matters, as investigators from the San Jose police, ATF, FBI and Santa Clara Sheriff’s Office are having to sift through debris to find clues.
Cassidy appeared to expend some effort in planning his crime, going about it methodically. But instead of executing an even bigger attack, he channeled his knowledge of terrorism into his personal vendetta — murdering the coworkers he hated.
According to Dr. Ziv Cohen, an experienced forensic and clinical psychiatrist who spoke to USA Today, Cassidy seems to fit the “typical mass shooter profile,” based on everything discussed above. However, Dr. Cohen was quick to point out, there are probably plenty of people in the country who display similar red flags.
This, he says, is part of the bigger problem law enforcement faces. On a daily basis, police at all levels may come into contact with people who present “warning signs.” But the truth is that most of them will not go on to commit such heinous and large crimes; just because someone is suspicious does not mean that police can take action. “It’s hard because a crime has to happen before an arrest,” Dr. Cohen said, “you can’t always anticipate behavior.”
As is routine after events like this, multiple lawmakers have renewed calls for federal legislators to take action on gun ownership reform. This includes President Joe Biden, who has previously referred to America’s gun violence problem as an “epidemic” and an “international embarrassment.”
Reforms can range from enhanced background checks and not selling guns to people suffering from mental illnesses, to tightening concealed and open carry laws, and banning high-capacity “assault rifles.” Public support for these measures varies, but most Americans seem to agree that something needs to be done to prevent what have become routine news reports of mass shootings.
The nine victims of Wednesday’s massacre were identified as Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, 63; Adrian Balleza, 29; Alex Ward Fritch, 49; Jose Dejesus Hernandez III, 35; Lars Kepler Lane, 63; Michael Joseph Rudometkin, 40; Paul Delacruz Megia, 42; Taptejdeep Singh, 36; and Timothy Michael Romo, 49.
They are being mourned and remembered fondly by their families, friends, colleagues and communities.