Santa Clara VTA razes building where shooter killed 6 coworkers

Santa Clara VTA razes building where shooter killed 6 coworkers

On Wednesday, construction workers caved in the roof, gutted the interior, and virtually destroyed the structure that for some traumatized workers looms over the facility like a black mark.
May 12, 2022

By Eliyahu Kamisher, Bay Area News Group

Nearly a year ago, Building B on the western edge of Guadalupe rail yard in San Jose, Calif., transformed from an anonymous off-white structure to the site of the Bay Area’s deadliest mass shooting. Since that early spring morning on May 26, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) building has remained shuttered and its windows darkened in one of the most visible symbols of the tragedy that shook the region and continues to upend the lives of survivors.

On Wednesday the building met wrecking crews. Construction workers caved in the roof, gutted the interior, and have virtually destroyed the structure that for some traumatized workers looms over the facility like a black mark.

Among them is John Courtney, president of the VTA’s largest union. Courtney was in the break room when a disgruntled VTA maintenance worker pulled a gun from his duffel bag and opened fire. Inside Building B, Courtney huddled on the ground behind a flimsy plastic chair before yelling at the gunman to “stop f—ing shooting.” His demand went unheeded but Courtney was spared.

The structure still hangs over Courtney’s frequent visits to the rail depot. After returning to work as a full-time union president, Courtney once fell to his knees in front of the building and called for help. He has wanted the structure demolished for months but now acknowledges that his journey past May 26 is far from over.

“You feel like there are some loose ends that you need to tie up in your mind so you can move on,” said Courtney. “The fact of the matter is you can’t tie up all the loose ends.”

The nine shooting victims were fathers, brothers, and husbands. They left behind children who are now preparing for college, a wife considering moving out of state, and friends who have put together a memorial golf tournament. Another veteran VTA employee who witnessed the attack later took his own life.

But as the VTA approaches that tragic day’s one-year anniversary there are still unresolved matters. In November, victims’ families filed claims for damages in excess of $140 million, according to documents obtained through a public records request. The claims could go to trial if the parties do not reach a settlement.

Another $1.9 million contract that was supposed to be awarded to Deloitte to revamp a workplace culture criticized as toxic is delayed after divisions among the union leadership. Meanwhile, the VTA is enforcing a strict vaccine mandate that could see dozens of employees fired.

On Wednesday, excavators, surrounded by heaps of twisted metal, hauled piles of rubble into a dump truck where the building once stood. The structure, which housed the Way Power and Signal division, was already on the VTA’s radar for renovation before the shooting, but the tragedy sped up the demolition.

In a matter of minutes, the gunman, Samuel Cassidy, killed six of his coworkers in the break room. He then moved eastward to Building A and killed three more before killing himself. There are no plans to destroy Building A, which houses the dispatch center and is far more difficult to replace.

Building B is not the only mass shooting site to be destroyed. Communities around the country have grappled with how best to memorialize victims and move forward when buildings are often a constant reminder of the tragedy. Demolition crews leveled Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, where a shooter killed 20 children, and also a community college building in Oregon.

“Many people early on wanted not just this building demolished, but they wanted the whole yard redone,” said Cindy Chavez, a VTA board member and Santa Clara County supervisor.

“I think the path to recovery is very long,” said Chavez. “This wound is so deep, that the recovery is more ephemeral. It’s less physical in many respects.”

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