Gilroy Police Chief gives update on Garlic Festival shooting
The 19-year-old gunman who attacked the Gilroy Garlic Festival Sunday used an AK-47-style assault rifle he had purchased legally in Nevada less than three weeks ago, but police still do not have a motive for why Santino William Legan targeted the popular event.
At news conferences Monday, Gilroy officials said the three people killed were all young – a 6-year-old boy, a 13-year-old girl and a man in his 20s. But they said much worse carnage was avoided by police on the scene who engaged the gunman almost immediately after he opened fire.
“When this call came in, the shots being fired, the closest team of officers responded immediately,” Police Chief Scot Smithee said. “They were there and engaging the suspect in less than a minute.
“The suspect was armed with an assault-type rifle and as soon as he saw the officers he engaged the officers and fired at the officers with that rifle. I had three officers that engaged that suspect, and despite the fact that they were outgunned with their handguns against a rifle, those three officers were able to fatally wound that suspect and end it very quickly.”
Smithee said the festival, which can attract 100,000 people over its three-day course, is typically staffed by police and that their presence prevented more violence.
“There absolutely would have been more bloodshed, I believe, with the number of people and the small area that they were in,” he said. “I think it’s very, very fortunate that they were able to engage him as quickly as they did.”
The Santa Clara County coroner’s office identified two of the victims Monday as 6-year-old Stephen Romero and 13-year-old Keyla Salazar, both of San Jose.
The third victim was identified as Trevor Irby, a 2017 graduate of Keuka College in upstate New York. College President Amy Storey announced his death in what she called “devastating news” in a statement on Monday.
Outside the Romero family home in San Jose on Monday, a tire swing hung from a tree and a bucket of toys sat on the front porch.
Next-door neighbor Mario Ramos, 45, pondered how he was going to tell his own four children their playmate was killed.
“My youngest daughter plays with them all the time, they’ve been on summer vacation ...,” Ramos said. “He was all happy, he was all giddy ‘cause he was ... going to first grade ...
“I haven’t told them yet. How do you tell your kids their best friend is gone?”
Authorities also say they still are investigating reports that a second person may have been involved in some way.
“We really don’t know,” the chief said. “We’ve gotten multiple reports that there may have been another person with him, that they ran this way or they ran that way... We really don’t know at this point.”
Legan, who comes from a well-known Gilroy family, apparently was living in Walker Lake, Nev., until recently, according to online databases. Smithee said he purchased the rifle legally July 9, then returned to California some time before the festival.
The owner of a gun store in Fallon, Nev., says he sold the assault rifle used in the shooting and that he is “heartbroken” over the incident and wants the shooter to “rot in hell.”
“We feel so very sorry for the Families, I am heartbroken this could ever happen,” the owner posted on the Facebook page of Big Mikes Gun and Ammo. “Please show only respect here. Good people have been hurt and this goes against everything I believe in.
“I have always said we will sell to good people and have done everything we can to make sure this happens. We obey the Laws, We are a small home business, we sell to people who we think are upstanding citizens to promote safe sport shooting.”
The store’s Facebook post, signed only “Mike,” said he did not know the gunman and that Legan “ordered the rifle off my internet page.”
“When I did see him, he was acting happy and showed no reasons for concern,” the post said. “I would never ever sell any firearm to anyone who acted wrong or looks associated with any bad group like white power. Everyone is my brother and sister and I am mourning for the families. Mike.”
In an earlier post, the Facebook page said the shooter should “rot in hell.”
“We pray for the victims,” the post read. “My heart hurts for them and the young boy (an apparent reference to slain 6-year-old Stephen Romero).”
The store’s Facebook page says it is “veteran owned” and offers a link for online shopping of rifles, handguns, shotguns and other items.
The store did not respond to phone and Facebook messages Monday.
Legan family members could not be reached for comment Monday, and law enforcement officials would not comment on whether they were cooperating in the investigation.
Legan is the grandson of a former Santa Clara County supervisor and the brother of a well-known boxer who had been in training for the 2020 Olympics.
A neighbor said the area was a quiet neighborhood and that the family posed no problems in the past.
Ernesto Mendoza, 70, said he has lived there six or seven years and has waved at Legan family members when he sees them.
“Ever since we don’t have any problems, that’s why we are shocked,” Mendoza said. “So far as we know they are some nice people.”
Gilroy police searched his family’s home Monday less than two miles from the festival scene at Christmas Hill Park, but authorities say they still do not have a motive for the attack, which began after Legan cut his way through a fence to get into the event.
Police discovered his car north of the park Monday and were preparing to search it. Smithee said it still was not clear whether Legan was still living in Nevada or if he had returned to the family home in Gilroy when he launched his attack.
Craig Fair, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Francisco office, said agents still are searching for an explanation for what he called an “absolutely heinous act.”
“Motivation, ideological leanings, was he affiliated with anyone or any group,” Fair said. “It still has to be ruled out and still has to be determined at this point.”
Fair said the park is an “extensive and complex crime scene” that will take days to process, and that personal belongings left behind while people fled will be returned to them in time.
The gunman’s social media accounts were taken down by Monday morning, but various reports indicated he had posted a reference to a white supremacist book to an Instagram account before the shootings.
The book, an 1890 text called “Might is Right” by Ragnar Redbeard, is a white supremacist screed that purports to explain Aryan superiority over other races.
“If there were an Aryan book club, this book would be in it, but it wouldn’t be the book of the month like ‘Mein Kampf’ and ‘The Turner Diaries,’” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
But Levin cautioned that it is too early to decide the motive for the attack was racial bigotry, noting that such shooters typically fall into one of three categories: ideologically motivated, psychologically impaired or acting out of personal revenge.
“You always let the evidence take you where it leads,” Levin said, adding that Legan was not a known figure among white supremacists.
Gov. Gavin Newsom visited with victims of the attack Monday and told reporters later there was little he could say to comfort them.
“Nothing I can say can change what happened,” Newsom said. “I don’t know what I could possibly say to make you feel better except, ‘God bless you and I’m so sorry. I don’t get what happened to you and what’s happening in this country. We’re here for you.’”
The governor also denounced the lack of progress in stemming such attacks.
”The leadership today that just turns a blind eye and won’t do a damn thing to address these issues,” he said. “California’s doing its part but, Jesus, these guys, the folks in the White House, have been supporting the kinds of policies that roll back the work that we’re doing in states like ours to get rid of large-capacity magazines, to address the issues that we’re trying to advance on background checks.”
The attack began at 5:41 p.m. Sunday on the last day of the three-day festival, and sent hundreds of people fleeing for their lives once they realized a gunman was in their midst.
Witnesses said the gunman opened fire after emerging from a food court area carrying a rifle.
“We were eating and we heard a pop, pop noise and then we heard it again, pop, pop, pop,” said Miquita Price, a 42-year-old Vallejo woman who arrived at the fair at 12:30 Sunday. “And then my husband said, ‘It’s shooting,’ and he pushed me down.
“The pop sounds were clear, and when he stopped shooting I got up and ran for cover over to an Enterprise truck. Me, my husband and a lady and her daughter all ran for cover and as we were running the gunman started back up.
“The lady, her neck was hit. We see that she’s bleeding and she’s freaking out. I’m freaking out. We are all hiding under this truck and I told my husband, ’We’re safe.’ And he said, ‘No, we’re not safe. The sheriff can’t save us.’”
At that point a sheriff’s deputy told the group to run, Price said, and she and her husband scrambled over a chain link fence and ran for blocks to safety.
“I ran out of my shoes,” she said in a telephone interview with The Bee from her home. “I came home without shoes, I have lacerations and cuts.”
Price said she did not hear the gunman say anything before he opened fire, and she said her husband, Eddie, saw him emerge from the food court area.
“My husband saw the fire being spit out of the gun,” she said. “It was a white male and he was in army fatigues. He came out of the food court, and that’s when he opened fire.
“People were screaming and running. It was chaos everywhere.”
Price said she saw no indication that a second person may have been involved in the shooting, and said there did not appear to be any confrontation to set the gunman off.
“We didn’t hear any screams, we didn’t hear any altercation, we didn’t hear anything,” she said. “I don’t know if he was alone. I didn’t see anyone.”
Price said her 17-year-old daughter had left the festival about 30 minutes before the shooting, and that she immediately called her after escaping the scene to tell her she was safe.
“I called her, I called all my family to tell them I was safe,” Price said. “I didn’t think I was going to make it out of there.”
Police said they believe the gunman cut through a fence to gain access to the festival grounds, and that fair goers were checked at the gates with metal detectors and wands before being allowed in.
But Price said she didn’t experience any security like that, and was allowed to enter after a security person looked inside her purse.
“They only asked me to open my purse,” she said. “I was not patted down. There were many opportunities for people to walk in, the security was very relaxed.”
Price said she finally arrived back home at 12:30 a.m. Monday and spent a sleepless night thinking about her narrow escape.
“I would never have thought in a million years this could happen,” she said. “I read the news, I get alerts on my phone. but I would never have thought this could happen.”
Some people ran for safety when they heard the shots, others hid wherever they could find shelter, and some initially thought the shots were firecrackers.
Ehren Brixner, a 43-year-old vendor from Santa Cruz, said people began running and security directed people toward one side of the event toward safety.
“We heard a couple of gunshots coming from the other side of the park,” Brixner said.
Erik Medina, a 32-year-old Gilroy man who was working at a garlic bread stand, described confusion and panic as the shots rang out, and said he escaped by hiding in a truck for 30 minutes.
“People were sort of running back toward the original direction,” Medina said. “I heard it was a false alarm because I originally had some friends in the amphitheater from my group and then I met them later ... and they said everything’s fine, someone just panicked.”
As law enforcement swarmed the scene and helicopters hovered overhead, residents and others who made it out to safety shared water bottles and cell phones to people to call loved ones and tell them they were safe.