San Jose is hurting and healing.
Thousands gathered at San Jose city hall to mourn the loss of the nine victims who were gunned down by their coworker at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority maintenance yard on Wednesday.
The calls at the Thursday-night vigil were clear: let’s heal together and remember the victims so that this never happens again.
Family members shared emotional testaments of their loved ones who passed. Federal, state and local representatives made promises to put forth meaningful policy and religious and union leaders called on the community to come together.
“They aren’t names to us. These are people we know and love and we see every single day of our working lives. It really, really hurts down to the very core of our souls,” said John Courtney, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 265, which represents VTA workers. “So please, ATU, let’s do what we do, stand for each other, by each other. Let’s love each other.”
As Courtney spoke, holding back tears, union members yelled, “we love you John,” and he responded that he loved them too.
But his ATU counterpart, international president John Costa took a much more serious tone.
“We need to do the right thing now, rope this in and talk about this,” Costa said. “We need to recognize this mental illness and workers violence. We need, today, to move forward to stop this. We can do better!”
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, who represents part of the South Bay also shared in the outrage – calling mass shootings a uniquely American tragedy.
“We do not need to be the only country on Earth with mass shootings every day,” Lofgren said.
She shared that in the United States, there are more guns than people and on average, 300 people are shot every day.
But the victim’s loved ones focused less on gun control policy as many were still trying to process their own loss.
“I never thought in a million years I would be standing here,” said Nicole Megia, wife of victim Paul Megia. “God took my best friend, my husband, too soon and I wish I could give him one last hug.”
Megia, an assistant superintendent of service management, worked at the VTA for nearly a decade and his employment even overlapped with his father Leonardo – a 32-year VTA veteran.
“Back in 2004, I asked my son to join the VTA part-time so he could go to college,” Leonardo Megia said. “He was doing the 64 line and I was doing the 25 line. We would meet at Willow and Lincoln.”
Leonardo Megia said those were some of the happiest times of his life, “but yesterday was the saddest moment in my life,” he said with tears falling down his face.
Scott Romo, who lost his father Timothy Romo in the Wednesday shooting, said he lost his superman.
“Timothy Romo is my dad, and he was much more than that to me. He was my hero, my idol, everything I ever wanted to be as a man and he led by example,” Scott Romo said.
Timothy Romo’s wife, Annette, fought back her tears enough to get one sentence in:
“Never leave your home without giving your loved one a kiss goodbye,” she said, “because that was the last I got.”
Jose Hernandez III was another one of the nine victims. His siblings, mother and step-father were among many of his family members and loved ones who came to the vigil.
“He’s a really kind hearted person. And if he could do anything for anybody, he would,” Hernandez’ stepfather Roy Benbow, who has known him for more than 16 years, said. “He was a great mechanic, like his sister said, he was a genius.”
And Carman Singh, brother of victim Taptejdeep Singh, offered support to all the loved ones who lost someone in the shooting.
“Stay united so nobody dares try to put us in a harm’s way. Show support. That’s what my brother would do, that’s what his Lion’s heart would tell him right now,” Carman Singh said. “He would say get together show support in every area wherever you work.”
Singh died on Wednesday trying to save the lives of his coworkers, his brother said in admiration.
But his heart is broken, especially for Singh’s two children, a 3-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter, who will grow up without a father.
“No matter how much I love them, no matter how much everybody else loves them, they’re going to ask where their father is.” Carman Singh said. “Nobody can bring that back.”
Residents who did not know any of the victims were also distraught by the violence on Wednesday.
San Jose native Elizabeth Whitfield picked nine flowers out of her garden and placed it on one of the many memorials set up around city hall plaza, which included candles, photographs of the victims, stuffed animals and union hats.
“I am really sad, really frustrated and really scared,” Whitefield said. “Seems like mass shootings keep happening more and more but it’s so strange when it happens in your hometown.”
She said she felt compelled to do something to help, but did not really know what to do besides donate money.
“You know when death happens, it feels like there’s nothing you can do. There’s no reconciliation,” she said. “I feel like I want to do something, but I don’t yet know what it is.”
She said, without a doubt, the people who can do something are politicians who can and should reform gun control.
State Senator Dave Cortese would agree.
“We can’t heal over this,” Cortese said at the vigil. “We can’t heal over the part that is most broken. We need to go to the part that is most broken, and we need to fix it. And that’s on me and that’s on all the people standing behind me and we are going to get it done.”