Witnesses describe Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting horror: ‘Active shooter, active shooter’

Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting
People leave the Gilroy Garlic Festival on Sunday amid an active shooter situation.
(Nhat V. Meyer / San Jose Mercury News)

The Gilroy Garlic Festival was about to end its run around 5:30 p.m. Sunday when the gunfire broke out.

Visitors to the famed food festival in a town that calls itself America’s garlic capital dove for cover and ran for their lives. Witnesses reported several people hit, but authorities have not yet provided any numbers.

Taylor Pellegrini, 25, said she was sitting on a bench near the food court with her boyfriend and two friends when she heard what sounded like firecrackers. When the pops continued and people started running, she realized they were in danger.

“People were yelling ‘active shooter, active shooter,’ and some people tripped and stayed on the ground so bullets didn’t hit them,” she said. “People were under tables and dropping their phones and whatever they had in their hands.”


Pellegrini, who lives in Hollister, was able to get out quickly because she and her friends were close to the exit. As they walked to the nearby home of a friend, where they’d parked, they saw police officers racing through the streets.

Some witnesses said they saw a man dressed in camouflage and armed with a rifle open fire. More than a dozen people were injured, but the number of fatalities was still unclear.

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Vivian Zhang, 24, was walking toward the exit with two friends when she heard pops and crackles, and then saw abrupt flashes of light. A truck they were standing next to was struck four times; bullets ricocheted off the ground. That’s when they started running as fast as they could.

“They started putting all of us on the parking shuttles,” said Zhang, an Oakland resident. “To their credit, the volunteers running it were very responsive, they weren’t panicking.”

Everyone seemed disoriented, Zhang said. Parents grabbed their children as police ran into the crowd.

“It’s a whole entire group feeling of sheer terror,” said Emily Gifford, Zhang’s 23-year-old friend.

As Zhang was running, she said, she remembered thinking, “I am surviving a mass shooting right now, but I’m not even sure if that will be true in a moment.”

One of Zhang’s friends was at the 2017 Las Vegas music festival where a gunman killed 58 people. She remembers seeing Snapchat posts from the scene. Still, she never thought this could be her reality, especially at a community event in rural California.

“It was getting closer and closer to home,” she said. “And now it happened to us.”

Vielka Garrido, 48, was sitting with her friend and 19-year-old daughter, enjoying the band as it played its last song at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.

She was filming a live video on Facebook showing everyone how much fun they were having. They were eating seafood and spaghetti, and dancing.

“And then we hear boom, boom, boom,” Garrido said. “We thought it was fireworks, and then when we see the people running — oh, my God, it was terrible.”

The shots felt close to where they were sitting at the front of the stage. Her group started running too, finding refuge in a shipping container where many other festival-goers were hiding.

As she was running, she said, she saw someone performing CPR on a small child and many other people injured.