A day after the Bay Area's deadliest mass shooting ever, local leaders gathered Thursday in San Jose to remember the nine victims lost.
"They are our friends and our family, and we want to honor them," said Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority Board of Directors chair Glenn Hendricks.
Hendricks' voice broke as he reflected on the horror that unfolded at the VTA maintenance yard on West Younger Avenue early Wednesday morning.
But he, along with other VTA, city and county representatives, did not want to focus on the criminal investigation. Instead, they wanted to remember the VTA employees lost, all of whom were members of the VTA family, Hendricks said.
Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, 63, worked with VTA for about 20 years as a substation maintainer.
Adrian Balleza, 29, started his employment as a bus operator trainee in 2014 and later becoming a maintenance worker and light-rail operator.
Jose Hernandez III, 35, started as a transit mechanic in 2012, later becoming an electromechanic and then a substation maintainer.
Lars Lane, 63, spent his 20-year career at VTA as an electromechanic and then an overhead line worker.
Michael Rudometkin, 40, started working at the VTA in 2013 as a mechanic, then electromechanic and an overhead line worker.
Paul Megia, 42, worked nearly a decade, first as a bus operator trainee, then a light-rail operator, transportation supervisor and ultimately an assistant superintendent in service management.
Taptejeep Singh, 36, started his tenure at VTA in 2014 as a bus operator, later becoming a light-rail operator.
Timothy Romo, 49, was an overhead line worker for more than 20 years at VTA.
Alex Fritch, 49, was the latest victim, succumbing to his gunshot injuries at a hospital on Wednesday night. He was a substation maintainer at VTA.
"Many of these folks work here for 20-30 years. And so yes, we do become a family," said George Sandoval, VTA light-rail maintenance operations manager. "And it's been difficult for everyone."
Nauni Singh, VTA's light-rail transportation superintendent who oversaw many of the victims, shared similar sentiments.
"It just so happened that all of them had very similar personalities (that had) such an effect on everyone else," Singh said.
He reflected on the loss of his office mate, Megia.
"Sometimes my demands could be unreasonable, but Paul always accepted with a smile, always willing to help his employees," Singh said.
Singh said he stayed with his employees and the victims' families, trying to offer all the support he could, "but unfortunately, we were helpless inside because we cannot provide what the family members were looking for."
Singh said that when he finally made it home at 7 p.m. Wednesday and felt his family's relieved embrace, his heart broke even further knowing that his employees' families couldn't experience the same feeling.
San Jose City Council member Raul Peralez, who represents the downtown area where the shooting took place, said he knew the feeling of waiting for your loved one to come home, "knowing that that's just never going to happen again."
Peralez was referring to the loss of his childhood friend Rudometkin.
"It's been painstaking and heartbreaking," Peralez said. "And honestly, it's going to take a lot of time, not for me, but for all of us to be able to heal."
The sentiment was shared by dozens of city, county and VTA leaders, many of whom wiped away tears from their eyes and struggled to make their comments without crying.
VTA acting General Manager Evelynn Tran was one of those leaders.
"Some of us get training on what to do when there's an active shooter event, but not about the aftermath," Tran said. "I saw immense pain in the faces of the family, and I heard their cries when they got the news. And it was utterly heart wrenching and I felt immensely hopeless."
Leaders gathered on Thursday did not share any details about the investigation. Local and federal law enforcement officials are still at the scene of the shooting, where the gunman, identified by the county Medical Examiner-Coroner's Office as 57-year-old Sam Cassidy, died by suicide.
The VTA said they will be holding a memorial for the victims in the coming days in collaboration with the families. In the meantime, a vigil will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at San Jose City Hall.
Those inclined to support the families can donate at act.wpusa.org, set up by the nonprofit Working Partnerships USA, and actionnetwork.org, organized by Amalgamated Transit Union, the largest labor union representing transit workers.
VTA light-rail service will be suspended until further notice because of the pending investigation and to provide respite for employees affected by the shooting.
VTA spokesperson Stacey Handler Ross said employees will be provided counseling and not be required to come to work immediately since they have undergone severe trauma.
The VTA will have substitute buses that run along light-rail lines with additional bus operators provided by Alameda-Contra Costa Transit and SamTrans.