Even as his life slipped away, Ben Lomond native Alex Fritch gave his wife Terra one final gift: a goodbye.
“It’s the biggest gift,” she told Good Times, describing how they got to embrace in the hospital. “He grabbed my hand. He cried. And then he took his last breath.”
Fritch, a 49-year-old father of three, was one of nine people killed in the mass shooting at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority light rail yard in San Jose on May 26. Terra says the days since the shooting have been a blur of interactions with mental health professionals, union reps, press and the FBI. She’s also been planning for her 18-year-old son’s high school graduation. But she says she wants Alex’s “legacy to be accurate.”
“He was very much a Santa Cruz Mountain boy,” she says.
Now, San Lorenzo Valley friends are remembering the San Lorenzo Valley High School alumnus. “He was a quiet, sarcastic, funny dude,” says Ian Harris, who knew Fritch since they went to Quail Hollow Elementary School. “He was always the same guy.” Harris, a stand-up comedian who lives in Los Angeles, says even though the topic of gun violence comes up almost every week on his politics podcast, it didn’t make him any more prepared to deal with the loss.
“I actually do expect it to happen to me or someone I know,” he says. “But when it actually does … it’s brutal.”
Luke Pabich, who works at a winery in Soquel, says he grew up on the same street as Fritch.
“I’ve just been processing it,” he says. “It comes in waves.” At first, 50-year-old Pabich—reached on his way to catch a flight to play a show with his band Good Riddance—was under the impression Fritch might recover. He decided to send a “long-winded” text anyways. “I really, really wanted to express to him what his friendship meant to me,” he says. He learned the bad news the following morning.
In the text, Pabich says, he reminisced about their growing-up years. “We would build forts—sorry, it’s a little bit hard,” he says, his voice breaking. “We would do just a lot of creative things together.” Like the time they broke into a sand quarry by where they lived. “We would bring skateboard decks, and we would basically try to ride down the sandhills on planks of wood,” he says.
An empty lot offered the perfect dimensions for a backwoods incarnation of a football stadium. So began the NFFL—the Neighborhood Field Football League. Fritch was the speedy, athletic one. Padric Fisher was the slightly pudgy one. Pabich was the starting quarterback on their real football team, the Ben Lomond Broncos. Harris taped together a makeshift trophy out of a paper cup and a plastic football. “He mighta made it, but I don’t know if he had the idea,” says Fisher, a 50-year-old who now lives in the Central Valley. They would also play a Capture the Flag-like game called “Army,” he says. Terra Fritch says she’s heard about the delights of playing “Army,” adding, as far as the NFFL is concerned, “He talked about that all the time.”
In high school, Alex Fritch met a Boulder Creek boy named Rick Tahira, now a 50-year-old Aptos resident. “My mom would drop me off because I didn’t have a car yet,” Tahira says. “We would just sort of warm up and hang out around these radiator heaters.” Chatting about music before school turned into jam sessions afterwards.
Pabich and Fritch, inspired by punk and thrash metal, had been learning to play guitar together. Danny Bauer set the rhythm on drums, as the friends practiced as a “joke” bedroom band called the Death Moshers. “We just made stupid songs about stupid things,” Pabich recalls, adding they never even tried to play a show. “We were horrible.”
Fritch’s wife confirms she got an earful about the Death Moshers. “He loved it,” she says. “He was so happy about it.”
Pabich would go on to play in hardcore band State of Grace, and later in Fat Wreck Chords group Good Riddance. But his first concert experience was an Iron Maiden show with Fritch, back in 1983.
Tahira says the picture he has in his head of Fritch is of him revving his 1967 Camaro RS to 100 miles per hour as they headed to all-ages metal club the Stone in San Francisco. Fritch long gave hints of a future with the public transit agency, all the way back to dissecting toys early on, says Fisher. “He always had a good mechanical aptitude,” he says. “He was a much better mechanic than I was.” Fritch even rebuilt the Camaro engine, but ultimately sold the car to support his first child, daughter Stephanie.
When he met his wife at a cowboy bar in San Jose, it was love at first sight. “I asked him to dance,” Terra says, noting he left swiftly, afraid he might say something awkward. “He was a little too intoxicated.” Their first real date began in Cupertino and continued all the way to Santa Cruz—sparking a relationship that lasted 20 years. They were supposed to renew their vows on the beach in Hawaii later this year.
“We would have lasted another 20 if he was still here,” she says. “He was my best friend.”
They had two children together: Atticus, now 18, who Fritch has been proudly supporting through his gender transition to male, and Justin, now 16, the stoic one of the family. “We’re surrounded by tons of friends that love us to pieces,” Terra says. “We’ve all been in counselling.”
Authorities have identified the shooter as Samuel James Cassidy, a 57-year-old San Jose resident who in the days after the deadly shooting has been described as a “highly disgruntled VTA employee.” Cassidy killed himself after the massacre. Santa Cruz resident Michael Rudometkin, 40, was also one of the victims.
Fritch’s wife feels like the authorities should have done more to halt the shooter before the mass killing. “He was red-flagged,” she says. “Let’s be honest, the ball got dropped.” But she embraces the idea that improving America’s firearm reality can be a nuanced affair. “Alex and I are very liberal people—we also believe people should have the right to own guns,” she says. “It doesn’t need to be all or nothing.”
Now, her son Atticus is writing a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom, in the hopes his dad won’t “become another statistic.”
Terra says she wants Rudometkin’s wife Gloria to know she’s there for her if she ever wants to talk. “It would be my pleasure,” she says. “This is a club that none of us want to be a part of.”
Terra Fritch has set up a GoFundMe account to help support the family. Visit bit.ly/3fCIBLX to donate.