(Reuters) — A transit employee who fatally gunned down nine co-workers and killed himself at a Northern California rail yard was "highly disgruntled" for many years before carrying out the latest in a recent surge of deadly U.S. mass shootings, the county sheriff said on Thursday.
Local authorities have declined to speculate on a precise motive for Wednesday's gun violence in San Jose, California, saying their work at the scene could take days, assisted by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Sheriff Laurie Smith said in a statement that the gunman's feelings about his workplace at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority or VTA "may have contributed to why he targeted" fellow employees there.
"Based on recent developments in the investigation we can say that the suspect has been a highly disgruntled VTA employee for many years," Smith wrote. "The investigation into motive remains ongoing and no additional information is available at this time."
The press release named the gunman as Samuel Cassidy, 57, whose identification had been widely reported by news media since hours after the shooting.
The gunfire erupted just after a morning union meeting at a light-rail maintenance yard about 50 miles south of San Francisco in the heart of Silicon Valley. The accused gunman shot himself to death minutes later as police arriving on the scene closed in on him, according to Smith.
The gunman and the nine victims shot dead were all employees of the Santa Clara VTA. The victims were found in two buildings on the site, near the city's airport.
The Wall Street Journal, citing a Department of Homeland Security memo, reported that U.S. customs and border officers had detained Cassidy in 2016 as he returned from a trip to the Philippines and found that he professed a hatred of his workplace.
When detained, Cassidy had in his possession "books about terrorism and fear and manifestos ... as well as a black memo book filled with lots of notes about how he hates the VTA," the Journal quoted the memo as stating.
The memo did not say why Cassidy was detained but notes that he had a "minor criminal history" and cited a 1983 incident in which he was arrested in San Jose and charged with "misdemeanor obstruction/resisting a peace officer," the Journal reported.
The newspaper said it was unable to determine whether customs officials shared their findings with the VTA or local law enforcement, and that the Homeland Security Department declined comment.
On Wednesday, authorities said the gunman set fire to his house just before going to the rail yard. Nobody was found inside the home and the blaze was quickly extinguished.
An explosive device was discovered near the crime scene after the shooting, prompting police bomb squad technicians to comb the rail yard and adjacent commuter rail operations center.
Spate of mass shootings
The attack was the latest of at least nine U.S. mass shootings over the past three months that each claimed four or more lives. This includes a string of attacks that left eight dead 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 center shot eight workers to death before killing himself.
Sheriff’s detectives recovered three semi-automatic handguns (9mm) at the scene, along with 32 individual high-capacity handgun magazines loaded with more ammunition, Smith said on Thursday.
The local medical examiner-coroner's office identified victims late on Wednesday, all of them male ranging from 29 to 63 years of age. Eight were found dead at the scene, the ninth died hours later at a hospital.
A vigil in their memory was planned for City Hall on Thursday evening, Mayor Sam Liccardo said.
The suspected gunman 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 $122,000 plus benefits, the records show.
His ex-wife, Cecilia Nelms, told the Mercury News on Wednesday that he would rant about his co-workers and bosses and would sometimes lash out at her. He complained about what he saw as unfair work assignments at VTA, she told the paper.
"When he was in a good mood, he was a great guy. When he was mad, he was mad," said Nelms, who was married to Cassidy until 2005.