The nine people who were killed in a shooting at a California rail yard were remembered by their families, colleagues and friends as loving, kind-hearted and heroic.
Paul Delacruz Megia enthusiastically embraced challenges in his job at the Valley Transportation Authority, his supervisor said. Taptejdeep Singh led people to safety during the shooting. Adrian Balleza was fun to work with, and Alex Fritch was the rock of his family.
“He was stolen from us,” Megan Staker said of her boyfriend’s father, Abdolvahab Alaghmandan. “Our hearts are broken forever.”
José Dejesus Hernandez III:
Jose Dejesus Hernandez III, 35, could fix anything, loved his hobbies and lived life with zest, according to his family.
The Dublin, California, resident was a substation maintainer who had been partnered with Samuel Cassidy, the man who authorities say gunned down Hernandez and eight others, said his father, Jose Dejesus Hernandez II, a retired Valley Transportation Authority employee. He said he was not aware of issues Cassidy may have had with his son or others.
“He was somebody who was so fair. A very, very fair person and always leaning to the right side of things, always looking for the right thing to do,” said Hernandez, crying at times in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press. “He was a really good guy, a great kid, and now he’s gone.”
“I feel really sorry for all those families, because these things aren’t supposed to happen. I feel sorry for the family of even the person who did this thing,” he said.
Jesus Hernandez’s former wife, Sarah, said waiting to find out what happened Wednesday was torturous. She tried to channel her former husband’s logic and calm.
“I just tried to be very logical and think, ‘Thousands of people work there, there’s no way, let’s just wait to hear and not get worked up, I’m sure he’s fine, I’m sure he’s on scene and he can’t have his phone,’ ” Sarah Hernandez said.
Taptejdeep Singh, 36, called another Valley Transportation Authority employee to warn him about Samuel Cassidy, saying he needed to get out or hide.
“He told me he was with Paul (Delacruz Megia), another victim, at the time,” coworker Sukhvir Singh, who is not related to him, said in a statement. “From what I’ve heard, he spent the last moments of his life making sure that others — in the building and elsewhere — would be able to stay safe.”
Singh’s co-workers also told his family that he left his office where people were hiding to warn others. He was shot when he ran into the gunman in a stairwell, his uncle Sukhwant Dhillon told local media outlets.
Karman Singh said his older brother had “a lion’s heart” and that he “died fighting for others, and trying to save his community, his VTA community.”
Annette Romo, wife of Timothy Romo, told the crowd: “I only have a few words to say: Never leave home without giving your loved one a kiss goodbye. Because that was the last I got.”
Bagga Singh said his cousin lived in Union City, California, and had a wife, two small children and many family members. He joined the VTA in 2014 as a bus operator trainee and later became a light-rail operator.
Singh said he has no idea why the gunman targeted his cousin.
Family members waited for hours at a Red Cross center Wednesday, hoping to learn Singh had survived. Eventually, someone from the sheriff’s department delivered the sad news.
“It’s unbelievable,” Singh said.
Paul Delacruz Megia:
Paul Delacruz Megia, 42, always had a smile on his face, no matter what was thrown his way, a colleague at the transit agency told a news conference Thursday.
Light rail superintendent Naunihal Singh said he shared an office with Megia, an assistant superintendent who started with the agency in 2002.
“Even if he disagrees with you, he’ll take it with a smile,” Singh recalled. “Sometimes my demands could be unreasonable, but Paul always accepted it with a smile.”
Megia had two sons, a daughter and a stepson and had planned to leave Thursday for a family trip to Disneyland, his father Leonard Megia told The New York Times. He said his son left home at 4:30 a.m. to commute from his home near Tracy to work, but made sure to call his children every single morning to check in on them before they started school.
“He was a wonderful dad,” he said. “He’s my son and my best friend.”
Adrian Balleza, 29, was kind-hearted and the type of colleague who tried to make work fun for his co-workers, a Valley Transportation Authority colleague told a news conference Thursday.
Balleza joined the VTA in 2014 as a bus operator trainee and then became a maintenance worker and light-rail operator, said Glenn Hendricks, chair of the authority’s board.
He is survived by his wife, Heather Balleza, and 2-year-old son.
“He was so happy to drive the bus. He was so happy that he got a new schedule. He started at four in the morning so he could come home and spend time with his family in the evening,” friend Beatrice Trotter told NBC-owned KNTV in San Jose.
Alex Fritch, 49, died at a hospital late Wednesday, surrounded by his children and parents, said his wife, Terra Fritch of San Jose.
“He was our rock, my safe place to fall. He was the love of my life,” Fritch told KTVU-TV.
The couple got married after having known each other for just six months and had been together 20 years. They were supposed to travel to Hawaii next September to renew their vows, she said.
“He always tried to look on the bright side of things. He loved Mr. Rogers. He watched him all the time. He loved the documentaries. He loved movies,” she said.
Fritch said she raced to the hospital after learning he had been shot. She said hospital staff moved him over in his bed so she could lie down with him.
“Alex was really fighting hard. He didn’t want to go anywhere, and I didn’t want him to go,” Fritch told the station.
Abdolvahab Alaghmandan, 63, had been with the Valley Transportation Authority for 20 years and was dedicated to his job, his son Soheil Alaghmandan, 33, told the Mercury News in San Jose.
“He worked overtime. He worked through the entire pandemic,” Soheil said of his father. “He’s a tinkerer. He can fix anything.”
When Megan Staker moved to San Francisco from Des Moines in 2018 with her boyfriend Soheil, he took her home to meet his parents, Alaghmandan and Firoozeh Davallou, at their Castro Valley home, she told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Right away Abdi, as Alaghmandan was known, “became like a second father to me,” Staker told the Chronicle. “He brought so much joy and laughter to our lives.”
Michael Joseph Rudometkin:
San Jose Supervisor Raul Peralez said he and his father were already planning another golfing outing with their longtime friend, Michael Joseph Rudometkin, 40.
“Now that will never happen again,” Peralez posted on Facebook. “My family and I have lost a long time great friend and there are no words to describe the heartache we are feeling right now, especially for his family. Eight families are feeling this same sense of loss tonight and our entire community is mourning as well.”
Lars Kepler Lane:
Lars Kepler Lane, 63, was her “soul mate” and the love of her life, said his wife, Vicki Lane.
Lane said her husband knew the shooter and described him as quiet.
“Why he had to shoot him I don’t know,” she said in an interview with San Francisco’s KGO-TV. “This just doesn’t seem real.”
Her world shattered Wednesday night when she learned her husband of 22 years was one of the victims. He leaves behind four children and a dog he doted on, she said.
Lars Lane joined the Valley Transportation Authority in 2001 as an electro mechanic and then became an overhead line worker, said Glenn Hendricks, chair of the VTA’s board.
Timothy Michael Romo:
Timothy Michael Romo, 49, was an overhead line worker at the Valley Transportation Authority for 20 years, said Glenn Hendricks, chair of the VTA’s board.
He grew up in the Central Coast town of Greenfield, California, where his father, Mike Romo, was the mayor and police chief, for many years.
The father of three was remembered by his children as smart, funny and someone who could fix anything, from a personal problem to a busted truck.
“He was my hero, my idol, everything I’ve ever wanted to be as a man and he led by example,” said his son, Scott. “He was my Superman.”
His wife, Annette, told the evening crowd: “I only have a few words to say: Never leave home without giving your loved one a kiss goodbye. Because that was the last I got.”