What prompted a woman to gun down an apparent stranger on a light-rail train in downtown Sacramento on Thursday night remained unclear Friday, as detectives continued their investigation and Regional Transit officials scrambled to assuage public safety concerns following the first homicide on a train in the system’s history.
A little more than 12 hours after the fatal shooting, Sacramento police detectives booked 32-year-old Lynnsey Evakarla Braun into the county jail on suspicion of murder.
She is accused of opening fire on a man in his 50s inside an outbound Gold Line train as it came into the Archives Plaza station at 11th and O streets.
The man, who suffered gunshot wounds, exited the train before falling to the sidewalk, according to Regional Transit officials. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Two other passengers were in the train car where the shooting occurred but were not physically injured.
“You have two people who get into an altercation and it ends in a fatality – that’s a situation that could happen anywhere,” said Regional Transit General Manager Mike Wiley.
Even as commuters raised safety concerns in the wake of the shooting, Wiley stressed that security and law enforcement reacted quickly to a rare incident.
“People should know that we had a very high level of response immediately,” he said.
Wiley could not remember another killing aboard a light-rail train. Nonfatal shootings have occurred, however, at or near stations and, on at least one occasion, on a train.
About 10 p.m. Thursday, authorities were alerted to the shooting by the train operator, who stopped the two-car train immediately upon hearing gunfire.
RT officers – Sacramento city police and county sheriff’s deputies assigned to police the system – were directed to the suspected shooter by witnesses in the area. The shooter had not left the scene and was immediately detained, then questioned by detectives.
Police identified Braun as the suspect after she was booked. She is scheduled to be arraigned Monday.
Braun declined an interview with The Sacramento Bee from the Main Jail, where she is being held separately from male inmates because she identifies as a woman. Efforts to find family members were not successful.
Detectives were able to review video footage of the shooting, thanks to extensive surveillance throughout the RT system. The video, which included no sound, showed that Braun and the victim got on the train at different stops and, although they appeared to exchange words, do not appear to have known each other, said Sacramento police Lt. Norm Leong.
The nature of their conversation remains unclear, said Leong, who supervises police and security services for Regional Transit.
However, police said that hate or bias do not appear to have been factors in the shooting. A source who was not authorized to speak on the matter said Braun is a transgender woman.
Leong declined to say whether mental illness appears to have played a role.
Braun did not possess a concealed weapons permit, according to Sacramento County sheriff’s Sgt. Lisa Bowman. Without one, Braun presumably would have been carrying a gun illegally, even if the gun was registered.
At the time of the shooting, four Regional Transit police officers were on duty. Two of them were several blocks away from the train and responded within minutes, according to authorities. Sacramento city police officers not assigned to RT duty also responded.
Regional Transit has 24 officers and deputies assigned to its force. They ride trains, monitor stations and respond to various calls throughout the system, Leong said.
In addition, 21 contract security guards were working at the time of the shooting, 10 of them riding trains. None of them, however, was on the involved train. In total, Regional Transit employs more than 100 of these security guards.
The system also has 13 non-sworn transit officers who most frequently check fares. They have some enforcement powers but do not have full peace officer status and do not carry weapons. None of them was on duty Thursday night.
Leong said staffing is determined based on ridership – so rush hours see the most police and security officers. Higher staffing levels would be desirable, he said, but not necessarily realistic.
“We don’t have a security officer on every train,” Wiley said. “Frankly, our budget can’t afford to provide that. But we did have a very high level (of security) and will continue to have a high level.”
The only shooting on a light-rail train that anyone can recall occurred in 2000, when an 18-year-old woman shot a passenger in the neck as a crowded inbound train reached the College Greens station along Folsom Boulevard. The man survived. Police arrested two teens on suspicion of attempted murder and said the case had gang overtones.
Nonetheless, Thursday’s shooting startled many riders.
“Someone was able to get onto public transportation with a firearm,” said Cheryl Allen, who works near the scene of the shooting. “What should we do? Do you start patting people down?”
Allen’s co-worker, Anthony Parks, pointed out a bullet hole in a window at nearby Caltrans headquarters, likely a casualty of a stray bullet from Thursday’s shooting. Behind the blinds, someone was sweeping broken glass from the sill.
A Regional Transit poster near the fractured window implores riders to “See it. Hear it. Report it.”
“I ride (the light rail) every evening,” Parks said. “It’s scary.”
Taking in the sight of the bullet hole with others who work near the light-rail line, Scott Nicolson called the shooting “outrageous.”
“Why does someone feel the need to be packing weapons on a train unless they have in the back of their mind that they’re going to use them?” he asked.