San Jose shooter had history of domestic violence, sexual assault allegations

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Bennett Purser and Brian Hardzinski

A gunman in San Jose killed nine people and then himself at a light rail yard on Wednesday. The incident adds another mass shooting to the list of more than 200 events in 2021 alone. 

The gunman’s neighbors told local media outlets they were scared of him and that he had a temper, while court records indicate a history of alleged domestic abuse and violent mood swings. 

KCRW talks about the details of the shooting and about the state of gun control in California with Mercury News reporter Maggie Angst and Giffords Law Center Implementation Director Julia Weber. KCRW is not using the name of the shooter. 

Angst says the shooter was a 57-year-old man who worked for the Valley Transit Authority (VTA) for 20 years. She adds that new surveillance footage from his neighbor’s home indicates he set fire to his home shortly after getting into a vehicle with a large duffel bag. It’s currently unclear how many rounds were fired, but Angst says he had three semi-automatic handguns and 11 magazines with 12 rounds in them. 

The shooter’s victims were all VTA employees who worked in the maintenance yard. “Some had been working for decades, some just several years. It's unclear how well all of them knew each other. But we know at least one of the victims was the manager of another one of them. So it's presumed that they were all pretty close,“ Angst says. 

She adds that the shooter had a history of domestic violence and sexual assault allegations. According to 2009 court records, an ex-girlfriend accused him of sexual assault, rape, abusive behavior.  

According to Weber, there are links between domestic violence and mass shootings. She notes that nearly one-third of mass shooters have a history of domestic violence, while in the majority of mass shootings where members of the public are injured or killed, an intimate partner is also killed. 

“Every year more than 600 women are shot to death by intimate partners. One roughly every 14 hours. There are over a million women alive today who have been shot or shot at by a male intimate partner. There’s about 4.5 million women who reported that a partner has threatened them with a gun,” Weber tells KCRW. “Those who are experiencing domestic violence are at high risk of being threatened or harmed or killed by someone who has a firearm who is their intimate partner, or former intimate partner.  … We have to take those threats of violence very seriously and recognize that that person may be at risk not only to that individual but to the public generally.” 

In California, Weber says perpetrators of domestic violence are prohibited from owning, possessing, or purchasing a firearm when they have a domestic violence restraining order against them. Those bans are in place for as long as the order is in place. Those who are convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or felony are also barred from possessing, owning, or purchasing a firearm. 

“We do have strong laws. And they need to be implemented and enforced,” Weber says. “We need to take action at the local level to ensure that those firearms, if they own them currently, are separated from that individual.”