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‘We’ll Heal Together’: More Than a Thousand Gather in San Jose to Honor the Victims of the VTA

Outside of San Jose City Hall Plaza Thursday evening, more than a thousand people gathered to mourn the lives of nine individuals killed in a mass shooting earlier this week.

“We’ve been apart for more than a year, through a year of pandemic and isolation and tragedy. But today, we’re here together as one community,” said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.

Throughout the vigil, speakers highlighted the importance of the community coming together and supporting each other through this difficult time.

“Healing for many will be a long, difficult path,” Liccardo said, “We’re here to express our commitment to one another, to walk with our forlorn friends and family on that long road to healing. We’re here to express a singular message in our community: We will heal and we’ll heal together.”

Early Wednesday morning, a gunman opened fire at a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority rail yard in San Jose, killing at least nine employees before killing himself.

By late that evening, the Santa Clara County Office of the Medical Examiner-Coroner had identified the nine deceased victims — including 49-year-old Alex Fritch, who had been hospitalized in critical condition after the attack and later died from his injuries.

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 Alex Ward Fritch, 49

Timothy Romo’s family embraces after speaking at a vigil Thursday night. Romo is survived by his wife and three children. (Julie Chang/KQED)

At the Thursday vigil, relatives of some of the victims spoke about their lives and the impact they had on everyone around them.

The family of Timothy Romo described him as the “funniest” and “smartest” person they knew.

“Almost every time I’d talk to my dad, he’d always say ‘Who is my favorite little girl?’ And I’d always respond, ‘I’m your only little girl,'” Romo’s daughter Audrey said. “I’m going to miss him every day.”

In a statement read by Mayor Liccardo, Heather Balleza and the family of Adrian Balleza said he was a “kind, humble human being.”

“He had so much life left and things he wanted to do, and he was loved by so many people,” the statement said. “I want to reach out to the other families involved and let them know that we are grieving with you.”

Taptejdeep Singh’s brother, Karmen Singh, described his sibling as someone who could always be reached out to for help. 

He said his older brother’s colleagues told him that when Taptejdeep Singh heard gunshots, “his first reaction was to tell other people, ‘Hey, run to safety.'” “That’s who he was,” Karmen Singh said, “That’s how he lived his whole life is helping others.”

And he extended that spirit to the families of the other victims.

“I want to tell everybody — all the nine families that are here — that I’m here for them. That’s what my brother would want me to do,” Karmen Singh said.

Hundreds gather in San Jose Thursday night to mourn the lives of nine people who were killed in a mass shooting this week. (Marnette Federis/KQED)

San Jose resident Karla Chavez said she attended the vigil Thursday night to show support for the community. She said she used to ride the VTA, and was shocked when she heard about the shooting.

“You wake up every day thinking you’re going to go to work, like a normal day and things like this happen,” Chavez said. “No one ever gets prepared to live something like this.”

Elizabeth Whitfield, who grew up in San Jose, said she didn’t know what else to do and wanted to be with her community.

“I want the families to feel like they have support behind them and that we care because it matters,” Whitfield said, “To be honest with you, it feels really powerless when this kind of thing happens.”

Speakers at the vigil highlighted the need for the community to come together and support each other through this difficult time. (Julie Chang/KQED)

On Thursday afternoon, the medical examiner-coroner’s office confirmed the identity of the shooter, also an employee at the VTA facility.  No motive for the attack has been announced.

Around the same time the attack took place, firefighters rushed to the shooter’s home to put out a two-alarm blaze. Authorities still have not confirmed if the two incidents are related. At the house, authorities said they found bomb-making materials, prompting a search of the entire VTA rail site.

The shooting began while a meeting for members of the union that represents VTA workers was taking place. Officials said it’s unclear if the the attack was related to the meeting. More than 100 people were present at the facility at the time, officials said.

Two funds have been established to assist victims’ families, including one hosted by Working Partnerships USA and another organized by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), which represents many workers at the site, including a number of the victims.

During his remarks, ATU International President John A. Costa emphasized the importance of keeping this incident at the forefront of people’s minds.

“We have to honor our brothers today and not forget what has happened here and not let this happen again. We can’t sweep this under the rug,” he said.

The VTA has suspended service until further notice.

KQED’s Matthew Green and reporting from the Associated Press contributed to this story.

Copyright 2021 KQED