GILROY — Nineteen days before the rampage at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, 19-year-old Santino William Legan bought an AK-47-style assault rifle at a Nevada gun shop.
He brought it back to California and to Gilroy, the town where he grew up, police said. On Sunday evening, clad in partial fatigues, he carried the weapon to a creek near the festival’s grounds and cut a path through a security fence. With the sounds of lively rock music and smell of garlic in the air, he walked toward a music stage — and began America’s latest inexplicable slaughter.
“I think everyone wants to know why,” said Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee, who said Monday authorities still are investigating what drove Legan’s deadly motivations.
The teen sprayed gunfire, killing a 6-year-old boy near a bounce house and wounding the boy’s mother and grandmother. He killed a 13-year-old girl and a 25-year-old man, whom festivalgoers frantically carried to the back of a white pickup truck and tried to save with CPR.
He wounded more than a dozen others, including a 12-year-old girl who was shy by nature, and now her family can barely get her to speak, and a cheerleader, a junior from Gilroy High School who was volunteering in a booth selling garlic braids and aprons. She lay bleeding on the dusty fairgrounds for 15 minutes while a friend’s mom used her hand as a compress and kept calling out, “We need help! I need help!”
A man cries after putting up a “Gilroy Strong” banner before a vigil for the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting outside of City Hall in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
Robert Ramirez, sits with his son Robbie, 10, during a vigil for the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting outside of City Hall in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
SoundThe gallery will resume insecondsPeople listen to speakers during a vigil for the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting outside of City Hall in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
People wait for the start of a vigil for the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting outside of City Hall in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
People raise their hands when asked who attended the Gilroy Garlic Festival during a vigil for the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting outside of City Hall in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
People attended a vigil for the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting outside of City Hall in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
A man listens to speakers during a vigil for the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting outside of City Hall in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
People hug before a vigil for the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting outside of City Hall in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
People listen to speakers during a vigil for the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting outside of City Hall in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
Ron Esparza, 61, of Gilroy attended a vigil Monday, July 29, 2019 in Gilroy after the Garlic Festival Shootings. He had saved the candle he used a month ago for the vigil after the shootings in Morgan Hill at the Ford Store. (Jason Green/Bay Area News Group)
Artist Ignacio “Nacho” Moya carries a sign he made during a vigil for the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting outside of City Hall in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
“I saw stuff that no one should ever see,” said that mother, Molly Guerin, 40, from Morgan Hill, who says the moment she ducked behind the cash register, she saw the glint of a bullet fly overhead. “I saw blood and people screaming. I’m not going to get the images out of my mind, and the sounds of the gunshots were terrifying. I feel nauseous, and I don’t know how to describe it.”
The carnage ended quickly, police say, when three Gilroy Police officers with handguns who had been on routine festival duty engaged in a gunfight and shot dead the teenager armed with a semi-automatic weapon built for battle.
“It could have gotten so much worse, so fast,” Smithee said. “I’m really proud that they got there as quickly as they did. There absolutely would have been more bloodshed.”
Legan — a 2017 graduate of Gilroy High School who posted support for white supremacist literature on a now-deactivated Instagram page — died close to where he opened fire, surrounded by hay bales near the Vineyard Stage that some of his victims had been sitting on and enjoying the last 19 minutes of the three-day festival.
Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee, listens to a question during a press conference about the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting at the Gilroy Police Department in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
The massacre is the latest in a series of deadly mass shootings, reigniting the national debate over gun-control and adding to the tension between California, with some of the strictest gun laws in the country, and neighboring states such as Nevada that are more permissive.
Smithee described the gun Legan used as an AK-47 style assault rifle “that had been purchased legally in Nevada on July 9” — although it would have been illegal to bring across state lines to California. FBI agents early Monday raided a unit in a triplex in Walker Lake, Nevada, that Legan was believed to have used “during the days prior” to the Gilroy shootings.
Around the same time, officers and agents searched the Gilroy home of Legan’s family Monday morning. It’s unclear when Legan moved to Nevada and when he returned, Smithee said. He would likely have had to have been a resident of Nevada to purchase the gun legally.
Why he came home to the Garlic Festival, to carry out his deadly shooting spree, was a question authorities couldn’t answer.
The event that draws 100,000 people over three days is considered one of the largest food festivals in the country and a “homecoming” for locals who attend every year.
The suspect is the grandson of former Santa Clara County Supervisor Tom Legan, who died last year. The three victims include 6-year-old Stephen Romero, who is related to San Jose City Councilwoman Maya Esparza, and Keyla Salazar, 13, who is also from San Jose. Also killed was Trevor Irby, 25, who was from upstate New York but recently living in Santa Cruz with his girlfriend.
Nearly two dozen people were injured, including 11 who were hospitalized with gunshot wounds. At least one remained in critical condition Monday. Many of the shooting survivors were improving Monday, hospital officials said.
“I’ve been doing this 20 years, and it’s just sickening,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom, who visited five gunshot victims at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose.
“Nothing I can say can change what’s happened,” he told reporters about his conversations with victims inside. “I don’t know what I can possibly say to make you feel better except, God bless you, and I’m so sorry, not only what’s happened to you, but what’s happening in this country, in this state, in this nation of ours. We’re here for you.”
Alberto Romero, 33, of San Jose, speaks about the death of his son Stephen Romero, 6, while outside Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, Calif. on Monday, July 29, 2019. Romero’s son and wife were shot by an active shooter while attending the Garlic Festival in Gilroy. Stephen Romero died after being transported to St. Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
The horror started Sunday evening for Alberto Romero at home in San Jose when his wife, Barbara Aguirre, called to say their 6-year-old son, Stephen, had been shot in the back and taken away by paramedics. She had been shot in the stomach and hand and her mother in the leg.
“I couldn’t believe what was happening, that what she was saying was a lie, that maybe I was dreaming,” said Romero, a San Jose electrician who was home with their 9-year-old daughter when he received his wife’s call. He was first summoned Sunday night to St. Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy, where doctors tried desperately to save his son — a playful boy who looked forward to starting first grade.
“They said they were working on him,” Romero said, “and five minutes later they told me he was dead.”
Shortly before midnight, he was racing to his wife’s bedside at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
Ken Christopher, scion of the Christopher Ranch garlic empire, missed the shooting by two hours. He had spent half the day Sunday at the festival taking U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta, of Monterey, and Panetta’s middle-school age daughter on a tour of the festival grounds. They started at the heart of the event, “Gourmet Alley,” sampling the garlic scampi before finishing off with a cone of the famous garlic ice cream. Christopher’s grandfather, Don Christopher, had co-founded the festival in 1979. The family’s Christopher Ranch brand of fresh, chopped and minced garlic fills grocery store shelves around the world.
Police officers escort people from Christmas Hill Park following a deadly shooting during the Gilroy Garlic Festival, in Gilroy, Calif., on Sunday, July 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
“I was so excited to show off to him, and he was so dazzled by everything,” said Ken Christopher, choking up. “Last night, I had to call him and apologize because I put his daughter in harm’s way.”
The garlic festival has raised millions of dollars for local nonprofits and includes 4,000 volunteers, many of whom work in booths that raise money for their local organizations.
“It’s innocent. It’s community. It’s an escape from the entire world,” Christopher said. “To see something like this strike at the heart of our identity — it’s a violation. Three days celebrating food and music — and now it’s shattered.”
At the Vineyard stage at just about 5:40 p.m., the band TinMan had started its final song of the festival, the classic rock tune “American Band,” when the shooter came in from the side and started shooting.
“We had a few hundred people still dancing and in the audience, and everybody panicked and fled,” said Bill Weir, a south San Jose resident who has played bass and sung with the band for 13 years.
About a dozen people, including the band and sound crew, he said, hid under the stage as bullets ricocheted off the ground.
“The gunman was very close, and it wouldn’t have taken but a swing (around) to open fire on the stage,” said Weir, crediting police with arriving so quickly and probably saving the lives of the band. “I’m sad and angry that we have victims, including children that pay the price. And I’m angry that guns find their way into the hands of people who obviously should not have them.”
Many of those fleeing the gunfire were volunteers, vendors and so-called “pyro chefs” wearing aprons from a day spent grilling garlic steak sandwiches and delighting crowds by setting pans ablaze while making garlicky calamari.
“One minute we were making funnel cakes. One minute we were on the ground protecting our son from a stray bullet,” said Dave Davies, 60, who has worked as a funnel cake vendor at the festival since 1993.
On Monday, he and about 20 other vendors were staying at a Red Cross Shelter set up at nearby Christopher High School, where pizza, pastries and more were being served as they waited for police to reopen the festival grounds so they could retrieve their vehicles and gear.
Police exit a home on the 300 block of Churchill Place in Gilroy, Calif., on Monday, July 29, 2019. Police are searching for evidence at the home of the suspected gunman Santino William Legan who killed three people at yesterday’s Gilroy Garlic Festival. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
The tragedy left everyone shaken and brought out their humanity.
Guerin’s 16-year-old daughter, Caitlin Hinz, who also is on the Gilroy High cheerleading squad, said Monday that she and her cheerleading friends who had been holed up in a tent with emergency crews left the park “crying and holding each other.”
“There was a lady, an older lady walking. She had fallen on her face,” Hinz said. “Me and my friends carried her all the way back down the hill to the fire booth. We stayed with her.”
She also watched in horror as a woman tried to revive Irby, the 25-year-old from Santa Cruz, in the back of a pick-up truck.
Adella Garland, a trauma surgeon at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, said Monday she was especially struck by the emotional impact on children.
“You know before that time, they were just thinking about how garlic ice cream would taste,” Garland said. “And now their lives are changed forever by this experience.”
Hundreds turned out 24 hours after the shootings for a vigil Monday evening. It was the second one in just over a month that Ron Esparza, 61, of Gilroy, had attended. Just 12 miles north, community members had gathered in late June after a disgruntled employee killed two supervisors and then himself at the Ford Store in Morgan Hill.
Esparza kept the candle from that night.
“I couldn’t throw it away,” he said. “It’s been in my car. I didn’t think I’d need it so soon.”
Staff writers Joseph Geha, Robert Salonga, Emily DeRuy and Maggie Angst contributed to this report.