Police ID Gilroy Garlic Festival shooter as Santino William Legan; victims include 2 children
The man police say opened fire at the Gilroy Garlic Festival on Sunday used a rifle banned in California to kill three people, including two children, and wound 12 others.
Police identified the gunman as Santino William Legan, 19, of Gilroy.
Three officers who were patrolling the park fatally shot Legan after the he reportedly started firing at crowds gathered at the popular food festival in Santa Clara County.
Officials at Keuka College identified the third victim as graduate Trevor Irby, 25, of Romulus, N.Y.
The officers began shooting at the gunman in less than a minute, Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee said, “despite the fact that they were outgunned, with their handguns, against a rifle.”
“We had thousands of people there in a very small area,” he said, his eyes tearing up. “It could have gotten so much worse, so fast. I’m really proud that they got there as quickly as they did. There absolutely would have been more bloodshed.”
Authorities on Monday were searching for answers to why a gunman opened fire at a popular food festival, killing three. Authorities believe many more people would have died if officers patrolling the event had not stopped the gunman so quickly.
The military-style semiautomatic rifle used in the attack is illegal to own in California but was purchased legally in Nevada on July 9 — a fact that drew frustration from Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday.
“You can’t put borders up, speaking of borders, to a neighboring state where you can buy this damn stuff legally. How in the hell is that possible?” Newsom told reporters at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. “I have no problem with the Second Amendment. You have a right to bear arms, but not weapons of goddamned mass destruction.”
The owner of Big Mikes Gun & Ammo, where the shooter bought the gun, posted on its Facebook page Monday to express anger over what happened in Gilroy, noting the business sells guns to people it believes are “upstanding citizens to promote safe sport shooting.”
“I pray to God for all the families,” the owner wrote. “I did not know this individual. He ordered the rifle off my internet page. When I did see him, he was acting happy and showed no reasons for concern. I would never ever sell any firearm to anyone who acted wrong or looks associated with any bad group like white power.”
Gunman’s behaviors before the shooting
The gunman was originally from Gilroy and spent some time in Nevada living with family, according to the city police chief.
The FBI and Mineral County sheriff’s deputies on Monday searched a unit in a triplex in Walker Lake, Nev., that authorities believe Legan used in the days before the shooting, according to Mineral County Dist. Atty. Sean Rowe.
Authorities also searched a house on Churchill Place owned by Legan’s family but were still trying to determine a motive. A source, who spoke to the Los Angeles Times on the condition of anonymity, said detectives were investigating Legan’s background and statements he had made on social media.
Legan’s grandfather Thomas Legan was a Santa Clara County supervisor before his death last year, according to his obituary.
In the hours before the shooting, Legan appeared to have posted a photo on his Instagram profile, which has since been deleted, of what appeared to be the Gilroy Garlic Festival with the caption: “Ayyy garlic festival time come get wasted on overpriced ....”
He also appeared to have posted a photo of a Smokey Bear sign warning about fire danger with a caption that instructed people to read the novel “Might Is Right.” The book, published in 1890 under the pseudonym Ragnar Redbeard, includes principles related to social Darwinism and is described as including misogynistic and racist ideas.
Neighbors shook by shooting
Early Monday, officers emerged from the Legan family’s two-story house, situated in the middle of a cul-de-sac lined with stucco homes, carrying several paper bags. Other investigators searched a dusty blue Nissan parked outside the home.
Two cats roamed around the house as authorities worked. Neighbors peered out of their windows to watch the spectacle. Some stepped outside to check out the police cruisers and news crews that had descended on their quiet neighborhood.
Kawika Palacios, 29, said his parents saw police searching a home linked to the man suspected of opening fire Sunday at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.
Neighbor Kawika Palacios, 29, said the Legan family has lived in the neighborhood for more than 18 years and mostly has kept to itself. Santino Legan, who is one of three offspring, was sometimes seen outside with his siblings boxing with their father, Palacios said.
Andrew Sanchez’s stepfather was in the backyard Sunday night, feeding the cats, when he heard, “Gilroy police — open up!” Sanchez, a 19-year-old college student, said he saw police swarm with flashlights into the backyard that abuts his family’s property.
Sanchez said his family had had just one encounter with the Legan family. The day his family moved in, Sanchez said, a truck driven by someone who lived at the home had cut them off and then briefly pursued them. It was startling, and they’d since avoided them, he said.
It stung, Sanchez said, to see the festival — the pride of Gilroy, a draw for tourists and celebrity chefs, a boon to its small businesses, hotels and civic groups that use it to fundraise — become the site of another mass shooting. His family buys weekend passes every year. Sanchez attended on Friday; his mother, Saturday.
In this town of garlic pickers and Silicon Valley commuters, the festival “is the one thing Gilroy has going,” Sanchez said.
“It hurts. It’s hurting everyone in Gilroy,” he said. “That festival means so much to us, and it will forever be tainted.”
Ernesto Mendoza, another neighbor, saw the caravan of police vehicles that streamed into the cul-de-sac Sunday evening, not long after reports of a shooting at the nearby garlic festival. Blaring from the vehicles’ loudspeakers was a message: Go inside and shut your doors.
Authorities cordoned off the mouth of the cul-de-sac until about 1 a.m., when the vehicles streamed out, he said.
Mendoza believed they were just making sure the neighborhood was safe — he often runs in the park where the festival is held, just a 30-minute jog from his home. It wasn’t until this morning, when reporters asked Mendoza what he knew of his neighbors, that he realized the shooter might have lived on his street.
“It’s terrible,” he said of the shooting. “How many years have they been doing that festival? It’s supposed to be very quiet.”
Witnesses retell terror and trauma
The popular food festival at the “Garlic Capital of the World” was about to close about 5:30 p.m. Sunday when authorities allege Legan opened fire.
Chief Smithee said the gunman was able to circumvent the festival’s security by entering from a creek area and cutting through a fence.
Witnesses reported hearing multiple rounds fired by a man armed with a rifle and dressed in what looked like a tactical vest and camouflage fatigues. They said he fired more than a dozen times before pausing and then firing again into the crowd. Police initially said 15 people had been injured in the shooting, but officials lowered that number to 12 early Monday.
Smithee said late Sunday that witnesses reported a second man was somehow involved. But officials are “no closer” to determining whether there was a second person, and if so, what kind of involvement the person had, Smithee said. Officials also haven’t determined why the gunman began shooting.
“Everyone wants to know the answer: Why? If there’s any affiliation with other people, or groups of people, that could potentially pose a threat in the future, that all plays in,” Smithee said.
In front of lines of orange cones, officers from a handful of police and sheriff’s departments on Monday morning directed cars away from streets that connected to Uvas Park Drive, the neighborhood thoroughfare that runs parallel to the creek in the Debell Uvas Creek Preserve.
At one intersection, a sheriff’s deputy holding an assault-style rifle said the area was blocked off because it connected to the creek bed. The creek runs along the southwestern edge of much of the city, through the campus of Gilroy High School as well as Christmas Hill Park, where the festival was held.
Videos from the shooting scene showed people screaming and running across the festival grounds as shots were fired around them. Some described the chaotic situation as the scariest moments of their lives.
Taylor Pellegrini, 25, said she was sitting on a bench near the food court at the festival with her boyfriend and two friends when she heard the sound of 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.”
Vielka Garrido, 48, was sitting with her friend and 19-year-old daughter, enjoying a San Jose classic rock band called TinMan as it played its last song at the festival.
She was streaming a live video on Facebook to show 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 saw someone performing CPR on a small child.
Christian Swain, a singer for TinMan, said the band’s guitarist, Jack van Breen, was the first member to note something amiss. After those first shots, Van Breen stopped playing. Swain said his bandmate “saw the guy start messing with his gun — his clip or something.” After those first few shots, Swain said, “I’m assuming the gun jammed, because then all of a sudden there was like 20 rounds going off. That was unmistakable.”
From his vantage point onstage, Swain couldn’t see the shooter, but within moments his other senses picked up on what was happening: “All I know is the sound and the smell. We could smell the gunpowder, and that sound was unmistakable.”
Wounded taken to hospitals
Injured festival attendees were shuttled to three hospitals, and in the chaos of the transfers, conflicting numbers of injured people emerged.
Seven patients were taken to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. They ranged in age from 12 to 69. One has been discharged, and one was transferred to Stanford Medical Center as of Monday morning. Of the five remaining, one patient was in critical condition, two were in serious condition and two were in fair condition. One patient remained at St. Louise Regional Hospital.
Santa Clara hospital spokesperson Joy Alexiou said a total of 19 patients were originally brought in to the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and St. Louise Regional Hospital. Eleven of those patients had gunshot wounds, and eight had other injuries as a result of people fleeing the festival in the aftermath of the shooting. Two patients remained at Stanford.
Family members of 6-year-old Stephen Romero said he was fatally wounded in the attack. The boy’s mother and grandmother, who were also at the festival, were injured.
The family was playing in a bounce house when the shooting started. When Stephen’s mother, Barbara Aguirre, heard gunfire, she grabbed her son and began to run, according to Mario Ramos, 45, the family’s next-door neighbor of more than a decade, recounting a story the family had told him.
Aguirre was struck by two bullets: one in her hand, one in her stomach. Stephen was shot in his mother’s arms. The family believes the bullet that struck Aguirre in the stomach passed through her body and struck her son as she clutched him to her chest.
After she had been shot, Aguirre called her husband, Alberto Romero, who had stayed at home to study for an electrical exam and watch their 9-year-old daughter.
“They shot him,” she told her husband.
By the time Romero reached the hospital, Stephen was in critical condition. Minutes later, his son was dead, Ramos said.
‘Mass gun violence is an epidemic’
Founded in 1979, the Gilroy Garlic Festival bills itself as “the world’s greatest summer food festival.” The three-day event, held at Christmas Hill Park in the town southeast of San Jose, is hosted by community volunteers and raises money for schools, charities and nonprofit organizations.
The festival attracts tens of thousands of people every year to the town of 58,000.
“It is such a sad, just horribly upsetting, circumstance that this happened on the third and final day of the festival,” Brian Bowe, the executive director of the Gilroy Garlic Festival, said at a Sunday night news conference. “And to have seen this event end this way this day is just one of the most tragic and sad things I have ever had to see.”
Gilroy Mayor Roland Velasco described the shooting as “a tragedy that a very long night cannot erase.”
“Mass gun violence is an epidemic in the United States and yet one never imagines that such a thing could happen here in our beautiful community,” he said.
In Gilroy’s historic downtown district, the charming brick shops, restaurants and coffee shops sit quietly along Monterey Street. On Monday, a day after the shooting, people were doing their best to get back into a routine.
Jack Howe, 69, made his way down the sidewalk past a bookstore downtown as he does every day. He also practices tai chi at the community center, but was unable to on Monday as parks and recreation employees were assisting with the aftermath of the shooting rampage.
Howe said he can’t help but think about what befell his peaceful town.
“There’s no excuse for something like that to have happened,” he said.
Inside 5th Street Coffee Roasting Co., Yolanda Castaneda, who has lived in Gilroy for 25 years, was busy tending to customers. She said the morning mostly started out busy serving reporters and others visitors she’s not use to seeing in her shop. She said it’s been difficult to get back to a regular routine.
“I feel sad inside. I’m here trying to continue but I just feel sad deeply inside for the people who were hurt, the lives that were lost and changes that are coming,” she said. “I don’t know how the festival will be next year.”
President Trump expressed “deepest sadness and sorrow” for the families who lost loved ones in the shooting and called the alleged gunman “a wicked murderer” during a news conference in the White House Rose Garden on Monday.
“We reaffirm our national will to answer violence with the courage, determination and resolve of one American family. We will continue to work together as communities and as citizens to stop evil, prevent violence and protect the safety of all Americans,” he said.
The violence has prompted messages of support and mourning from public officials and a renewed call for sweeping gun control reforms.
“This is nothing short of horrific,” Gov. Newsom said. “Tonight, California stands with the Gilroy community.”
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton posted a photo of Stephen Romero on Twitter and wrote: “America cannot go on like this. For the sake of our kids, we have to change.”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also offered his condolences to the victims of the shooting late Sunday.
“It is devastating that families cannot enjoy a community festival without fear of gun violence,” he said. “We have a moral imperative to end this epidemic.”
Times staff writers Matthew Ormseth, Laura J. Nelson and Ruben Vives reported from Gilroy, Calif., and Hannah Fry and Richard Winton from Los Angeles. Staff writers Colleen Shalby, Randall Roberts, Alene Tchekmedyian, Jaclyn Cosgrove and Laura Newberry contributed to this report.
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