‘They did not wait’: Officers rushed into San Jose rail yard as gunshots were still ringing out, authorities say

While gunfire was still ongoing during the deadly shooting at a Northern California light rail yard, law enforcement officers first on scene ran into the building, taking their “life in their hands” to stop the massacre, the county sheriff said.

“When our deputies went through the door, initially he was still firing rounds. When our deputy saw him, he took his life,” Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith told reporters Wednesday. Deputies “were going through hallways saying, ‘Sheriff’s office!’ He knew at that time that his time for firing shots was over.”

Nine people were killed and the gunman died by suicide in the shooting rampage Wednesday at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority light rail hub in San Jose.

Smith said a team of Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputies and San Jose police officers were the first responders after 911 calls reporting the shooting came in Wednesday morning.

“They’re my true heroes,” Smith said. “There was active shooting going on at the time. There were victims shot in two separate buildings. But they responded, they responded the way that they should, they took their life in their hands and I know for sure that when the suspect knew that law enforcement was there, he took his own life.”

More updates on San Jose shooting: 9th victim dies after rail yard shooting in San Jose; gunman was long-time rail employee

Tactical law enforcement officers move through the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light-rail yard where a mass shooting occurred on May 26, 2021 in San Jose, California. (Photo: Philip Pacheco, Getty Images)

The shooting happened across the street from the sheriff’s office headquarters, said spokesperson Russell Davis.  When multiple reports of shots fired came in, the county’s active shooter protocol was activated, calling on multiple law enforcement agencies and fire departments nearby.

While officers were on the scene quickly, Davis said they did not exchange gunfire with the suspect, who shot himself as he saw law enforcement.

“They did not wait,” Davis said. “They immediately went into the scene and rendered first aid and rescued victims out of the building as fast as they can.”

He added: “With the training we’ve been doing with our active shooter protocol, this could have been a lot worse of a situation.” 

Since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, police departments across the country have largely changed procedure and protocol in how to respond to active shooter incidents. Rather than secure the area and wait for backup, law enforcement first on the scene is generally trained to engage immediately.

“These things happen so quickly that the first officer can’t wait,” Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told USA TODAY in March in the wake of the shooting at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado. “The officer has to engage. It’s highly risky, but unfortunately, in situations like this, seconds matter.”

More on police response to active shooters: How law enforcement strategy has evolved over the years

How the San Jose shooting unfolded

Security camera footage from a neighbor shows the gunman leaving his home at 5:39 a.m. with a duffel bag, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

At 6:29 a.m., San Jose Fire Department received a call about a blaze at a lumber business about 5 miles away from the rail yard. It is unclear whether this fire is connected to the shooting.

At 6:34 a.m., 911 calls reporting the shooting at the light rail yard first came in, Davis said.

Two minutes later, at 6:36 a.m., San Jose Fire Department responded to a call of a fire at the home of the man later identified as the suspected shooter. The fire department said damage was “heavy; the structure is currently uninhabitable.”

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

The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office tweeted at 7:12 a.m. deputies were responding to the scene of the shooting.

At 8:08 a.m., the office tweeted the shooter was “down.”

At a 10:30 a.m. news conference, Davis said eight victims plus the shooter were dead. He also announced a bomb dog detected explosive material as law enforcement was clearing the scene. According to the Mercury News, bomb squads also entered the suspect’s home at 10:48 a.m.

At noon, the VTA suspended light rail service.

Around 7:30 p.m., the Santa Clara County coroner’s office identified the eight victims: Paul Delacruz Megia, 42; Taptejdeep Singh, 36; Adrian Balleza, 29; Jose Dejesus Hernandez, 35; Timothy Michael Romo, 49; Michael Joseph Rudometkin, 40; Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, 63, and Lars Kepler Lane, 63.

A  ninth victim, Alex Ward Fritch, 49, was identified by the coroner’s office around 11:30 p.m.

What we know about the victims: He tried to warn his co-workers, then he was shot: Loved ones mourn victims of shooting at San Jose rail yard

Contributing: Dennis Wagner and Christal Hayes, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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