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San Jose Mayor Sketches Out Timeline And Details In Deadly Rail Yard Shooting

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The mayor of San Jose, Calif., is on the line. In his city yesterday, a transit worker showed up at a rail yard and, according to police, killed nine people and then himself. Area transit has shut down as police carefully investigate that rail yard. Mayor Sam Liccardo, welcome to the program.

SAM LICCARDO: Hello, Steve.

INSKEEP: I'm sorry for the...

LICCARDO: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Good morning. I'm sorry for the occasion, to be talking like this. But I appreciate your time. This must touch every part of your community in one way or another.

LICCARDO: It has. Many of us are, I think, still very numb from it. We just received notice late last night that the ninth victim has now passed. And this is really - extinguished the last hope we had that there might, perhaps, be someone who had survived from this horrible, horrible act. So we've got families who have lost loved ones and co-workers who have lost friends. And I think our task now is to do everything we can just to support them and to help them begin the path of healing.

INSKEEP: I'm glad you used the word numb, mayor, because I wonder if a lot of people across the country are feeling that way about mass shootings at this point. The Gun Violence Archive says this was the 231st mass shooting in 2021, a year that we're not even halfway through. Is there some sense of familiarity that makes this even more dismaying?

LICCARDO: Absolutely. You know, we read about this seemingly every day. But it happens somewhere else. And then when it happens in your own community and it happens to and among people you know and care about, it's so much different. But the reality is this is horrifically a uniquely American institution. We suffer from this far more than any other country. And it's not a secret as to why that is. We are a nation with as many handguns and arms as there are people. And the consequence of that, I think, is all too real.

INSKEEP: I want to work through what you know reliably about the shooting so far, granting that many answers are unknown. And even some of the things we think are facts may turn out not to be. But let's begin with the location. I've been on Google Maps looking down at this rail yard. What kind of a facility is it? And what does it do, normally?

LICCARDO: It's a light rail maintenance facility where we store our light mail vehicles - light rail vehicles, excuse me. And also, they're maintained and prepared for their work every day. And so workers are there very early in the morning. And, of course, these are the essential workers of our community. They've been out there every day putting themselves at risk, of course, during this pandemic, at a time when so many of our residents still depend on transit to get to work and for the basic necessities.

INSKEEP: And then what happened yesterday morning, as far as you can tell?

LICCARDO: At about 6:30 in the morning, the shooting broke out. At that point, many of the workers had already begun their shifts. And I was speaking sadly with the brother of one of the victims, who was on the phone with his brother. They both worked at the facility. And one was urging the other not to come in because he had heard shooting elsewhere in the facility. And then, of course, there was no voice at the other end of the line. Clearly, people knew this was happening. They had called 911 immediately. Fortunately, San Jose PD got there very, very quickly or else there would have been more people lost.

INSKEEP: Horrifying story about the brother talking to his brother inside this facility. The shooting went on, I guess, for a number of minutes then before police arrived.

LICCARDO: I can't say precisely. I think the good news, if there is any in all of this, is that there were police literally a block and a half away who got there immediately.

INSKEEP: And at the time that they arrived, we're told the gunman shot himself. Is that your understanding?

LICCARDO: Yes. And that is, of course - sadly, that is the blessing in all of this. We see in active shooting situations throughout the country, there seems to be a very high correlation that when the officers arrive that then the shooter tends to inflict the shot on themselves. This is, sadly, the only way of stopping the carnage is having law enforcement there as quickly as possible.

INSKEEP: Now, you mentioned the police were a block and a half away. Our correspondent in San Jose was indicating that that seems to have been because there was some kind of fire nearby. Can you describe what was happening nearby? And is there a question about whether there's some connection between these two events?

LICCARDO: Well, the shooter had set his own home on fire that morning. That actually was not nearby. There was another fire that was closer nearby. And we're still trying to better understand the connection between that and this incident. But the reality is that the police headquarters is actually two blocks away. So as officers were coming out a morning briefing, they got the call, immediately responded.

INSKEEP: Where is the shooter's home that was set on fire?

LICCARDO: It's a couple of miles away in the southern - south central part of my city.

INSKEEP: So I'm now trying to get a timeline in my head. You believe that this gunman very early in the morning sets his home on fire, goes away, heads to the place where he works and opens fire on his colleagues?

LICCARDO: As best as we can tell at this point. But I know we're going to be learning more throughout the day.

INSKEEP: Do you know how he was armed, with what kind of weaponry?

LICCARDO: I've been told. But I don't want to get out in front of the investigators on this.

INSKEEP: Understand. Understand. Can you tell me one more thing? When it gets to the question of guns, what kinds of weapons rules are there in San Jose? And in your mind, is there any relevance to this particular case what the rules were?

LICCARDO: Well, we have, in California, some of the strictest gun laws in the country. And in San Jose, we've actually been very proactive in pushing to constrain ghost guns, to ensure at the point of sale - we passed a law that's going to be, actually, coming into enactment in just a couple of weeks that will force the videotaping and audiotaping of every transaction to reduce straw purchasing of guns. So we have a lot of regulations. And there's no question that we need to do more to reduce gun violence. But the reality is I'm not sure any laws will stop mass shootings as long as we're in a country with more than 300 million guns.

INSKEEP: I guess you have more immediate concerns today dealing with managing the city. What are the next few things that are going to happen and that need to happen in the next 24 hours, say?

LICCARDO: Well, obviously, the investigators are going to continue to do their work. And the scene has been difficult for investigators because of concerns about explosives in different locations. And so they're still getting all of that information. Tonight at 6 p.m., we're going to have a vigil at city hall. And I think it's going to be an important first step for all of us to begin the path as a community to healing.

INSKEEP: Mayor, thanks for taking the time today. I really appreciate it.

LICCARDO: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Sam Liccardo is the mayor of San Jose, Calif., where a gunman opened fire, killing nine people at a transit facility and then killing himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF I/O'S "TO EVERYONE I COULD HAVE LOVED AND ALL THE PLACES WE COULD HAVE CALLED HOME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.