As a gunman opened fire Wednesday at a Northern California light rail yard, Taptejdeep Singh rushed out of an office where his co-workers were hiding. He wanted to help them escape, they told his family.
Singh, 36, frantically called others to warn them. He ran through the building, trying to secure it. He helped a woman hide in a control room, The Mercury News reported. Then he was gunned down in a stairway.
Singh’s brother, Karman Singh, said in a statement Thursday that his family was comforted hearing how he spent his final moments trying to keep others safe.
“Even in these moments of chaos, Taptejdeep was living by the values of Sikhi: living in service and protection of others,” the statement on behalf of Singh’s family said, referring to his religion. “We choose to remember Taptejdeep as the hero he was, both in those final moments and throughout his life of service.”
Light rail operators, mechanics, linemen and an assistant superintendent were among the victims of Wednesday’s shooting spree at a Valley Transportation Authority facility in San Jose.
Many of the victims were longtime employees. They were identified by the Santa Clara County coroner’s office Wednesday night as Singh; Paul Delacruz Megia, 42; 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 taken to a local hospital, where he died.
A GoFundMe spokesperson said a centralized hub for identifying and verifying fundraisers for the victims and their families has been set up at gofundme.com/san-jose-strong.
The shooter, also an employee, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, San Jose police spokesman Russell Davis said. Authorities were still trying to determine a motive.
Singh worked as a light rail train driver for at least eight years and had a wife, a 3-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter, according to the family statement, released by the Sikh Coalition. He was born in Punjab, India, and immigrated to California with his parents 17 years ago, the family statement said.
“We can’t believe he’s gone,” said Singh’s uncle, Sukhwant Dhillon.
Sukhvir Singh, another VTA employee who is not related, said in the statement that Singh called him to warn him about the shooter.
“Because of him, so many people were able to go home to their families,” Sukhvir Singh 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 Sikh Coalition, an organization that works to protect civil rights such as freedom of religion, has reached out to offer help to Taptejdeep Singh’s family. The group’s website said Sikhism is the world’s fifth-largest religion, with more than 25 million followers, including about 500,000 in the U.S.
“The Sikh Coalition is devastated by the loss of life at yesterday’s VTA shooting in San Jose, CA,’’ the organization said in a tweet Thursday that included a photo of Singh.
San Jose Council member Raul Peralez, a close friend of Rudometkin’s, said in a Facebook post that he and his dad had been planning a golf day reunion with Rudometkin.
“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,” he wrote. “Eight families are feeling this same sense of loss tonight and our entire community is mourning as well.”
Family members were sharing photos tagging what appeared to be Rudometkin’s Facebook profile. Rudometkin started as an overhead line worker in December 2018, according to the Facebook profile.
His cousin, Christina Marie, mourned Rudometkin on Facebook and posted photos of him alongside family and friends.
“We lost our dear Cousin Mike today in the San Jose’s VTA mass shooting,” she wrote. “He was the nicest person in the world. He loved his family so much. Please pray for our family. We are so devastated.”
His mother, Rose Rudometkin, said in a statement to ABC 10 that her son was attending a union meeting when the gunfire broke out. She said he was also a youth minister.
“He had just turned 40 and still had more to live,” she said in the statement. “He has always been a wonderful son, brother, loving husband, uncle, cousin and friend to many. He would give his last penny and shirt off his back. Anyone could call him for help and he’d be there.”
Lane was a grandfather and left behind a wife and three children, as well as six siblings, his family told KTXL. He would have turned 64 in three days.
Lane’s brother told KTXL that waiting to hear news of his loved one was torturous.
“Waiting 10, 12, 14, 18, 28 hours, it’s horrific,” Edward Lane told the station. “That’s devastation.”
Other family and friends of the victims mourned by posting to Facebook pages of the victims.
Paul Delacruz Megia was described as “a ray of sunshine” by friend Melissa Santos Poquiz.
Phil Guzman, a friend of Balleza’s, wrote that seeing him was sometimes the highlight of his day. “It was kinda like having a younger cousin around when you were there,” the Facebook post said. “Adrian Balleza, my friend, I will truly miss talking trash with you. I miss you, my friend.”
Romo, a VTA power foreman, was planning a trip with his wife to visit their son before he was killed, his neighbor Keith Baldwin told the San Francisco Chronicle.
“He was a very friendly man, always ready to help you out,” his neighbor Nancy Martin told the newspaper.
Flags flew at half staff as California Gov. Gavin Newsom said victims’ relatives were “waiting to hear from the coroner, waiting to hear from any of us, just desperate to find out if their brother, their son, their dad, their mom is still alive.”
“It begs the damn question,” he said. “‘What the hell is going on in the United States of America?’”
There have been 15 mass killings in 2021, each resulting in at least four victims dying, according to an Associated Press/USA TODAY/Northeastern University database that tracks every mass killing over the past 15 years. All 2021 cases have been shootings, and they have claimed a total 86 lives.
“There are at least eight families who will never be whole again,” President Joe Biden tweeted Wednesday. “Every life taken by a bullet pierces the soul of our nation. We must do more.”
Contributing: Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY; The Associated Press