Brian Light was a hero who probably saved lives before losing his own in a June 25 shooting at the Ford Store Morgan Hill, Police Chief David Swing said Wednesday.
Light, 59, of San Jose, was shot and killed as he struggled to disarm a gun-wielding employee who had been fired from the Ford Store earlier that day, said Swing at an afternoon press conference at Morgan Hill police headquarters.
Less than 24 hours before Swing stood before reporters and cameras, Light, the Ford Store Morgan Hill Parts and Service Director, lunged at a former employee who had just shot and killed Ford Store Parts Manager Xavier Souto, Swing said.
This brief struggle at about 6pm June 25 allowed about 35 colleagues and customers inside the Ford Store precious moments they needed to run to safety as gunshots rang out in the building, the police chief said.
“Brian’s actions here are nothing short of heroic,” Swing said. “It is likely that, through those actions, he prevented us having additional victims at the scene yesterday.”
Morgan Hill Police Sgt. Bill Norman added that video surveillance from the Ford Store “clearly” shows customers and employees able to flee the building before the gunman exited the office where he shot Light and Souto. “Without that (struggle), he would have been right on top of a lot of people,” Norman said.
The suspect ultimately shot Light twice, resulting in Light’s death as he lay on the floor at the Ford Store.
Souto, 38, also of San Jose, had worked at the auto dealership since 2012, Swing said. The family man started out as a parts counter clerk, and was later promoted to his most recent position.
The gunman shot Souto “at point-blank range, killing him instantly” in an office where the three late co-workers had been talking about the gunman’s behavior after he was fired earlier in the day, Swing said.
“Xavier leaves behind a wife and two sons,” said Swing. “Xavier was known for his love of his family, both immediate and extended family, and for the love of his work.”
At the June 26 press conference, police officers and city officials offered more details about the previous day’s workplace dispute that resulted in the deaths of Light, Xavier and the gunman, Steven Leet, also of San Jose.
Swing gave the following account of Leet’s actions on June 25: Leet, who worked in the parts department at the Ford Store, 17045 Condit Road, was fired about 4:15pm. Leet then walked out to his car in the parking lot, and stayed there for about 20 minutes before returning inside the Ford dealership. He returned to his work station where he lingered for nearly an hour, then was escorted to a back office where he had a conversation with Light and Souto.
That conversation ended when Leet shot Souto and killed him, Swing said. That’s when Light unsuccessfully attempted to overpower Leet and disarm him. After shooting Light twice, “The suspect then walked into the parking lot, sat down on the curb, and shot himself in the head,” Swing said.
The police department began receiving 911 calls reporting the shooting at 6:03pm, and the first officers arrived at 6:07pm, according to Swing. The first officers on the scene reported hearing the gunshot that killed Leet, and immediately saw his body on the ground with a gunshot wound and a handgun by his side.
“The officers who responded stood tall in the face of danger; they ran toward the danger,” Swing said. “They ran through a parking lot where evil could have lurked around any corner, around any car.”
Fire department personnel responded immediately behind police, and entered the building after Morgan Hill police officers located the victims and cleared the scene of any remaining danger. Light, Souto and the suspect were pronounced dead at the scene.
Police stayed at the Ford Store investigating the shooting until about 5am Wednesday, Swing said.
From there, the Morgan Hill/Gilroy regional SWAT team served a search warrant at Leet’s home on Russo Drive in San Jose, Swing continued. Officers found no evidence that the June 25 shooting had been planned or premeditated.
Police said they do not know why Leet, 60, was fired from the Ford Store. Souto was his direct supervisor in the Ford Store’s parts department, and Light was Souto’s supervisor, Norman said. Investigators have not found any indication that Leet had directly threatened anyone or was on the verge of causing problems at the Ford Store before he started shooting. Norman added that the initial 911 calls came in as an “active shooter” incident.
Leet had worked at the dealership about eight years. After the shooting, Ford Store employees told police that Leet was “a quiet individual, who kept to himself,” Norman said. Police think he lived alone at his San Jose home, and was not married.
Police further revealed they found two handguns belonging to Leet at the scene of the shooting. The weapon with which he shot Light and Souto was a .38-caliber revolver, Norman said. Also found was a semiautomatic handgun that was not fired during the incident.
When the SWAT team searched his home, they found “well over a dozen firearms,” Norman said. Twelve firearms were registered in Leet’s name. He was legally in possession of all of these firearms, and Leet had no criminal history.
Despite the fact he brought at least two guns with him to work June 25, investigators do not think Leet went to the Ford Store Tuesday morning planning to shoot his supervisors.
“Based on statements from co-workers we (initially) believed it was pre-planned, but as the investigation continued we’re to the point now where we think he may have just carried weapons with him all the time,” Norman said. Police do not know if Leet had been carrying the two handguns on his person throughout the day, or if they had been in his car in the parking lot before he returned inside the Ford Store building.
Swing added, “It appears to be a spontaneous action that resulted in the loss of these two men, and the loss of two fathers with families.”
Mayor Rich Constantine led the June 26 press conference with condolences to the families of the victims and those who witnessed Tuesday’s violence. He and police officials also thanked officers who assisted from other law enforcement agencies, as well as fire and EMS personnel who responded to the scene.
“To the citizens of Morgan Hill, I want to express that though last night’s events were tragic, one tragedy does not a trend make. And Morgan Hill is, and will continue to be, one of Santa Clara County’s safest cities,” Constantine said.