- A light rail operator for over eight years, Taptejdeep Singh, who died helping his coworkers hide, was back on the job after returning from vacation.
A Sikh American man is among nine people killed in the May 26 mass shooting at a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) rail yard in San Jose, California. Taptejdeep Singh, who worked as a light rail operator, was among eight people gunned down at the shooting, described as the deadliest shooting in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1993. The shooter, identified as 57-year-old Samuel J. Cassidy, an employee at the rail yard, is among the dead. The ninth victim, Alex Ward Fritch, age 49, died in the hospital, late May 26 night.
Singh, 36, lived in Union City with his wife and two kids. Family members told local news media that Singh died helping his coworkers hide during the shooting. They said that coworkers who escaped, told them that Singh saved at least one person and tried to save others both by calling and physically helping them. “One lady he put in the control room to hide over here you know,” Singh’s brother Bagga Singh told ABC 7. “He can go there too actually, but he just saved her and went downstairs.” Unfortunately, Singh didn’t make it downstairs, and was killed in a stairwell, his family told ABC 7.
They said they were worried and had a feeling something was wrong, when he didn’t pick up his phone when they called. It was his second day back on the job after returning from vacation. “I called him and he didn’t pick up the phone,” his uncle Sukhwant Dhillon said. As per a KTVU report, Singh’s family cried uncontrollably outside the assistance center. They were seen clinging on to one another repeating the words, “why?”
In a statement, the Sikh Coalition condemned the shooting. “The Sikh Coalition is devastated by the loss of life at yesterday’s VTA shooting in San Jose, CA. We are sad to learn that at least one Sikh community member, Mr. Taptejdeep Singh, was among those killed; we are keeping his family and the families of all victims in our prayers.”
In a statement released on behalf of the Singhs, Karman Singh said the family is beyond devastated by the loss of Singh, “a beloved father, husband, brother, son, and nephew,” and “a wonderful person who was committed to serving others at work and in his free time.” He continued: “Even in these moments of chaos, Taptejdeep was living by the values of Sikhi: living in service and protection of others. We believe that if the shooter had ever asked our brother for help, Taptejdeep would have gone above and beyond for him like he did for everyone he crossed paths with; he never harmed anyone, and no one who knew him would ever want to harm him. We choose to remember Taptejdeep as the hero he was, both in those final moments and throughout his life of service.”
Another VTA employee, Sukhvir Singh, received a phone call from Singh to warn him about the shooter. In a statement he said: “Taptejdeep called me to warn me that there was an active shooter in Building B and to go hide or get out immediately. He told me he was with Paul, another victim, at the time.” Adding that so many people were able to go home to their families., because of Singh’s help, he said: “We will never forget how he lived to the highest ideals of Sikhi in a moment of crisis, and my prayers are with his family and the families of all those who lost loved ones in this horrific attack.”
The May 26 shooting was the 15th mass killing in the country this year, all of them shootings that have claimed at least four lives each for a total of 87 deaths, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. At the White House, President Joe Biden ordered flags to be flown at half-staff and urged Congress to act on legislation to curb gun violence. “Every life that is taken by a bullet pierces the soul of our nation. We can, and we must, do more,” he said in a statement.
Similarly, California Gov. Gavin Newsom visited the site and then spoke emotionally about the country’s latest mass killing. “There’s a numbness some of us are feeling about this. There’s a sameness to this,” he said. “It begs the damn question of what the hell is going on in the United States of America?”
The attack is also described as the deadliest shooting in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1993, when a gunman attacked law offices in San Francisco’s Financial District, killing eight people before taking his own life. It also was Santa Clara County’s second mass shooting in less than two years. In July 2019, a gunman killed three people and then himself at a popular garlic festival in Gilroy.
In a series of tweets, Rep. Ro Khanna condemned the attacks. Some parts of Silicon Valley, which Kahanna represents, are served by the VTA. “This is the 15th mass shooting this year. “This will keep happening unless we break through the gridlock & change our gun laws.” In another tweet, he wrote: “This is happening in my community today. But we know it is happening in communities across our nation. We need real action now to address the gun epidemic.” He continued in the third tweet: “Over 80% of Americans want common sense gun control measures. It was our community today, but it will be someone else’s tomorrow. The gun violence epidemic will continue to rage unless we take concrete action.
In a statement issued after the incident, he wrote: “While much still remains to be confirmed at this time, one thing is abundantly clear: the gun violence epidemic will continue to rage unless we take concrete action to protect our country. It was our community today, but it will be someone else’s tomorrow. My heart is shattered thinking of the lives lost, as well as the families & communities upended by this senseless tragedy. These were some of our frontline heroes, who kept the South Bay moving through the worst of the pandemic. Over eighty percent of Americans want common sense gun control measures. Background checks, ‘red flag’ laws, and longer waiting periods are all within reach. When I head back to Washington, I will continue to push for this urgently needed legislation.”
Assemblyman Ash Kalra posted a link to a fundraiser by Working Partnerships USA. “As a former VTA Chair & Board Member, I am totally devastated to continue to learn more about the tragic shooting at the Valley Transportation Authority facility this morning,” he wrote in a May 26 post on Facebook. “Please use this link if you want to help support the families of the victims.”
Last month, four members of the Sikh community were among eight killed at a FedEx Ground Plainfields Operation Center in Indianapolis, Indiana. Amarjeet Kaur Johal, 66; Jaswinder Singh, 70; Amarjeet Sekhon, 49; and Jasvinder Kaur, 50, were among lives cut short by Brandon Scott Hole, a 19-year-old former employee, who went on a shooting rampage on April 15. Hole was later found dead in what is believed to be a suicide nearby.
This FedEx facility was known as the ‘Desi FedEx’ or the ‘Punjabi FedEx’ because of the number of people from the community working there, a prominent member of the Sikh American community from Indianapolis, who did to want to be identified, told American Kahani. “Even the leadership here is mainly Punjabi, so communication was never a barrier [for the Sikh and Punjabi people working here].”
The Indianapolis killings sent shockwaves within the community, with many recalling the tragic hate-crimes committed on Sikh Americans since Sept. 11. 2011. Although the motive of the gunman is unknown, local leaders said his actions generated fear similar to what many Sikhs felt after the Sept. 11 attacks, when they were confused for Muslims, and after a 2012 rampage by a white supremacist, who killed six people at a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. While authorities have not yet said whether bias is a factor in the gunman’s motive, many in the community believe that the incident could be driven by anti-Sikh sentiments.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) issued a statement condemning the attack. “As our country seeks to understand this week’s senseless mass shooting in Indianapolis, both in itself and as part of the larger blight of gun violence, it’s also imperative that authorities fully investigate whether this attack may have been driven by anti-Sikh motivations,” the statement read.
“While we’re still searching for answers, half of this tragedy’s eight victims were members of the Sikh community and the facility was known in the area to be heavily staffed by Sikh employees. This comes as our country has witnessed a recent wave of anti-Asian hate crimes during this pandemic after a broader increase in hate-motivated crimes and violence against a range of American communities over the last half decade. While the Indianapolis and Sikh communities continue to mourn, and as the rest of our country mourns with them, investigators must also determine if this mass shooting was a hate-motivated attack in addition to serving as another example of the plague of gun violence which has beset our nation.”