Somber anniversary marks 1 year since deadly VTA shooting at SJ rail yard

ByAmy Hollyfield and Amanda del Castillo KGO logo
Friday, May 27, 2022
Somber anniversary marks 1 year since deadly VTA shooting
A somber anniversary in the South Bay Thursday, marking one year since nine people were killed by a lone gunman at the VTA rail yard in San Jose.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- A somber anniversary in the South Bay Thursday, marking one year since nine people were killed by a lone gunman at the VTA rail yard in San Jose.

The community came together to remember the men killed -- and to thank first responders.

On Thursday, the community came together to remember the victims, to thank first responders who ran toward danger that morning, and to thank the mental health specialists who assisted after the shooting.

"We shouldn't be here," through tears, Karrey Benbow, mother of victim Jose Hernandez III told Thursday's crowd. "I hate that we're here."

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen described, "We gather today as we gathered on May 26 of last year, when we turned from a Wednesday to a nightmare."

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He said, "A year later, a Texas elementary school, a church in Southern California, a Buffalo grocery store, and so, so many other places have joined the VTA railyard and the fields of the Gilroy Garlic Festival as memories to innocent bloodshed and our country's shame."

The DA and other county leaders addressed visitors outside the new 526 Resiliency Center, created after the shooting in partnership with VTA.

Supervisor Cindy Chavez explained the center is a place for employees and the community to get the therapy and counseling support they need.

"I'm crushed for the families who lost children earlier this week, the families who lost grandmas and grandpas last week, and the tens of thousands of friends and families, coworkers and bystanders who have undergone the trauma of seeing people murdered by someone who is diluted, entitled, racist or just really, really angry," Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said.

Benbow told the crowd of first responders, "I want thank all of you that responded to everyone that was in that room- doing the best that you could for what was done to them."

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After naming those first on scene, DA Rosen described, "They stabilized one victim enough so that he was able to say goodbye to his wife at the hospital... thank you."

John Courtney with ATU Local 265 referred back to what happened the day of the tragedy.

"On the morning of May 26, as you all know, I was in the room where six of my friends were brutally murdered," Courtney said. "I got out of that place, and as I was getting away from a place of such horror, there were some real heroes running into that place."

He continued, "Can you imagine? Can you imagine what they remember from that day? Those folks that ran into that building and ran into that place where there were victims on the floor that were murdered?"

San Jose Vice Mayor Chappie Jones said, "There's the adage that you run towards the thing that we're all running from."

"The highest way we can honor you is to make sure you have the support you need to do your job," Sup. Chavez told the crowd of first responders, as she referenced the 526 Resiliency Center.

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Thinking about how far he and the community have come, Courtney added, "If nothing else, we all know each other and we know what each other is speaking for and we figured out that we're all kind of have the same goal in mind. And that's to make the workplace better, to make the community better, and just to make this world a better place to live in."

They sounded a train horn 10 times to honor the nine who were killed and a 10th employee who died three months later.

"It was very difficult, my heart breaks for all those people, along for us," said VTA employee Mel Gonzales, as he choked up.

The ceremony was full of support and love for everyone in the crowd, but they also addressed the systemic issues facing the light rail agency. VTA has been under pressure to improve its workplace culture since the mass shooting.

The general manager and the union president both said in their speeches that progress is being made.

"Systemically, we face a monster at VTA. And it wasn't created overnight and it won't be fixed in a year but God darn it, it is going to be fixed if it's the last thing that we do," said Union President John Courtney.

But mostly, they focused on the victims and on moving forward, lighting a memorial flame created for the victims and encouraging the mourners to carry that light with them in their hearts.

VTA employee Mel Gonzales said, "It meant a lot to us, the way it was done and set up. It was a beautiful ceremony and everyone that was there was filled with love and wants to heal."

Light rail service was impacted because of the anniversary. VTA officials say nine train operators called in sick to take a mental health break, taking nine trains out of service Thursday. Officials asked riders to be deal with any delays with patience.