Who is San Jose suspect Samuel Cassidy? Ex-wife details anger problems, authorities probe whether fires linked to shooting that killed 8

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Law enforcement on Wednesday worked to piece together what led a nine-year rail company worker to open fire on fellow employees at a light rail yard and whether a pair of fires, including one at the suspected gunman’s home, were linked to the deadly rampage. 

The suspected gunman, identified as Samuel J. Cassidy, 57, started firing rounds sometime around 6:30 a.m. local time. He shot and killed eight people before ending his own life at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light rail hub, which provides bus, light rail and other transit services throughout Santa Clara County — the most populated county in the Bay Area. 

The facility includes a transit-control center, parking for trains and a maintenance yard.

Law enforcement agencies, from local departments to federal officers, spent Wednesday sweeping the sprawling transportation building for explosives after a bomb-sniffing dog alerted authorities to the presence of explosives at the building.

At the same time, authorities were investigating two fires that erupted around the same time and place as the shooting — including a blaze at the suspected gunman’s home — and whether the fires were connected to the shooting. 

Here’s what we know about Cassidy and the attack. 

Exes say Cassidy was abusive, had ‘two sides’

Authorities have not determined a motive, nor have they said whether Cassidy was a legal gun owner or what type of firearm was used in the attack. His social media presence – if he had one – is not apparent, nor is his criminal record.

But, his ex-wife described him as having “two sides” and having anger issues. 

Cecilia Nelms, who was married to Cassidy for about 10 years before they filed for divorce in 2005, told The Mercury News he often was angry at co-workers and about his assignments at work. She told the outlet Cassidy thought the VTA was unfair with its work assignments, though she said she hasn’t spoken with him in about more than a decade. 

“He had two sides,” Nelms told The Mercury News. “When he was in a good mood he was a great guy. When he was mad, he was mad.”

Another woman who dated Cassidy filed a restraining order against him in 2009, accusing him of rape and sexual assault. The filing, obtained by The Mercury News, also includes accusations that Cassidy had severe mood swings and suffered from alcohol abuse. 

Doug Suh, who lives across the street from Cassidy, told USA TODAY he witnessed the fire at Cassidy’s home around 6:45 a.m. and took video on both his cellphone and his security camera. He said Cassidy had lived in the area for 20 years but despite his roots there, seemed quiet and unfriendly. He said he’d tried to talk with Cassidy multiple times, saying hello and offering other pleasantries, but wouldn’t get much of a response.

“Every time I say hi, he’s ignored me,” Suh said. “I was surprised though…I didn’t think he was going to … kill people like that.”

Suh added to The Mercury News, Cassidy was “lonely” and “strange.” He never appeared to have visitors. 

Once, Cassidy yelled at him to stay away as he was backing up his car. “After that, I never talked to him again,” Suh told the newspaper. 

Cassidy had worked for Valley Transportation Authority since at least 2012, according to the public payroll and pension database known as Transparent California. His position from 2012 to 2014 was listed as a mechanic. After that, he maintained substations, records show.

Records suggest Cassidy had been licensed with the Bureau of Automotive Repair as a smog check repair technician since 2003. He previously worked for a car dealership in the city.

Members of a union representing transit workers were meeting when the shooter began firing, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said, but it’s not clear that it was related to the attack.

Authorities examine two fires near shooting

As droves of law enforcement responded to the attack at the VTA, fire crews were responding to two blazes nearby.

The first call the San Jose Fire Department got was at 6:29 a.m. about a blaze at a lumber business — just minutes before calls started coming in about a shooting at the VTA about five miles away. 

By Wednesday afternoon, a handful of firefighters were still outside the building spraying down the charred remains. There wasn’t a visible law enforcement presence. Workers at a nearby business told USA TODAY others in the area heard noises early Wednesday morning that sounded like fireworks right before the blaze erupted.

“Fire started outside and spread to nearby commercial building,” the fire department tweeted, writing the blaze “destroyed non-residential out building in nearby mobile home park.”

Minutes after the shooting was reported, the fire department was called at 6:36 a.m. about a fire at a two-story house owned by Cassidy. 

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo told ABC-7 it appeared the gunman set the fire on his way to the work site, though fire department officials have not confirmed the blaze was intentionally set. 

Footage captured by news helicopters showed law enforcement sifting through debris in the backyard of the beige home throughout the afternoon. The back of the home appeared to have the most visible damage with the roof charred and debris thrown in the yard. 

No one was injured in either of the fires and both grew to two-alarm blazes before they were put out by fire crews, San Jose Fire Chief Robert Sapien Jr. said at a news conference, noting the three back-to-back incidents drained his department’s resources and personnel. 

Contributing: Grace Hauck, USA TODAY; Angelica Cabral, The Salinas Californian, part of the USA TODAY Network, who reported from San Jose

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