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Disturbing portrait emerges of Gilroy Garlic Festival shooter

 Screenshot of Santino William Legan’s Instagram account
This screenshot of Santino William Legan’s Instagram account shows a selfie of Legan, who opened fire with an “assault-type rifle” at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, Calif., killing two children and another man.
(Associated Press)

Amid the screams, flying bullets and bloodshed that erupted on a warm summer evening at the Gilroy Garlic Festival on Sunday, someone shouted a pivotal question at the gunman: “Why are you doing this?”

“Because I’m really angry,” the gunman replied, according to Jack Van Breen, who spoke with reporters after performing at the festival with his band, TinMan.

Little more is known about the motive of the shooter, whom authorities have identified as Santino William Legan. But on Monday, disturbing details began to emerge about the 19-year-old Gilroy native, including possible links to the white supremacist movement.

The famed festival was winding down when authorities allege that Legan crept past a creek and cut through a fence, bypassing entrance security, while armed with an AK-47-style rifle.

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Soon after, he began spraying attendees with gunfire, authorities said, claiming three lives and wounding a dozen people. Within a minute, Legan was shot and killed as three police officers arrived and fired at him with their handguns.

Investigators spent the next 24 hours gathering evidence, serving search warrants and scouring social media sites for clues of what led to the rampage.

Before the attack, he posted a photo on Instagram with the caption, “Ayyy garlic festival time come get wasted on overpriced ...,” using an expletive.

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He also posted a photo of a Smokey Bear sign warning about fire danger, with a caption instructing people to read an obscure novel glorified by white supremacists: “Might Is Right” published under the pseudonym Ragnar Redbeard. In his profile, which has since been deleted, Legan identified himself as being of Italian and Iranian descent.

The book, published in 1890, includes discredited principles related to social Darwinism that have been used to justify racism, slavery and colonialism, said Brian Levin, director of Cal State San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

“The notion that people of color are biologically inferior is a key tenet of this book, and that biological determinism, the Darwinian view of the world, justifies aggression against diverse people and vulnerable people,” Levin said.

Hundreds gathered Monday night in Gilroy to grieve together over the killings Sunday of three people at the city’s annual garlic festival.

Authorities say Legan bought the semiautomatic rifle used in the shooting legally in Nevada on July 9, less than three weeks before the shooting. The weapon looks like a military-style AK-47. With its standard clip and stocks, it’s considered an assault rifle that is banned under California law. It’s unclear if the shooter targeted specific people.

The Nevada gun shop, Big Mikes Guns and Ammo, said in a Facebook post Monday that the buyer ordered the gun online.

“When I did see him, he was acting happy and showed no reasons for concern,” the seller wrote, adding that he was heartbroken over the attack. “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.”

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said Monday the investigation might determine that the gunman broke a law by purchasing the weapon in Nevada and bringing it into the state.

“That weapon could not be sold in California. That weapon cannot be imported into the state of California,” he said. “There is a very strong likelihood, as we develop the evidence, that the perpetrator in this particular case violated California law, on top of the crimes of homicide.”

Gilroy police said a 6-year-old boy, a 13-year-old girl and a man in his 20s were killed when a gunman opened fire at the Gilroy Garlic Festival on Sunday.
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Legan was originally from Gilroy and graduated from Gilroy High School in 2017. In a YouTube video that surfaced of his commencement, Legan’s full name is announced before he walks across the stage to receive his diploma. A district spokesperson declined to confirm that he attended and referred all media requests to the Police Department. The school district is offering counseling sessions for students, staff and members of the community affected by the incident.

Recently he had spent time in Nevada living with family. Authorities searched two homes tied to him: a house at the end of a quiet suburban cul-de-sac in Gilroy and a triplex unit in Walker Lake, Nev., that authorities believe he used in the days before the shooting.

Map of Gilroy Garlic Festival
(Los Angeles Times)

Officers emerged from the Gilroy house — which sits less than two miles from the festival grounds — carrying several paper bags. Later on Monday, investigators searched the vehicle the gunman drove to the festival. Police said it was found on Laurel Drive, northeast of the park.

When Legan didn’t come home after the shooting, his older brother, Rosino Legan, thought he’d been shot by the gunman, said Jerome Turcan, a family friend who trained Rosino Legan in boxing and martial arts for many years.

When Turcan heard on the radio that there had been a shooting in Gilroy, he called Rosino Legan and his father, Tom Legan.

Turcan said he got through to Rosino Legan, who said he was in the car with his cousin, searching for his younger brother.

Rosino Legan couldn’t find his brother and was thinking of going to the emergency room, Turcan said.

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“They wanted to be sure he was OK. That was the last contact I had with him,” Turcan said. “And then I learned this morning it was Santino who did the shooting. It was shocking.”

Turcan, who teaches martial arts in San Jose, said he trained Rosino Legan two or three times a week for more than a decade. He watched the boy grow into a top-notch athlete, he said, at one point ranked second in the nation for his weight class.

Rosino Legan, 23, is a boxer who was training for the 2020 Olympics two years ago, though it’s unclear if he’s training now. He graduated from a high school east of Santa Cruz and from Santa Clara University, a private college, in 2018.

In a 2017 Gilroy Dispatch article, Santino Legan is described as one of his brother’s “ready-made sparring partners,” in addition to his two other brothers.

In a 2014 Medium post, Rosino Legan wrote about his experience with the 2013 California versus Puerto Rico boxing team and described his father, Tom Legan — a competitive track-and-field runner — as his coach.

Most 2020 Democrats support universal background checks, “red flag” laws to take away guns from high-risk individuals, and bringing back a ban on “assault” weapons sale.

Turcan said Tom Legan is “a great athlete himself,” adding that the father tried out for the Olympics in 1988 for the 800- and 400-meter events.

Turcan said he didn’t see much of Santino Legan — the boy didn’t box or train in martial arts. The teen’s grandfather, who died last year, was a former Santa Clara County supervisor who was accused and acquitted of molesting his daughter in 1982.

“That family is a good family, really respectful, really hardworking,” Turcan said. “I don’t know where this comes from. It’s shocking, just shocking.”

As of late Monday, police were “no closer” to determining whether there was a second person involved in the shooting, Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee said.

“Everyone wants to know the answer: Why?” Smithee said. “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.”

Times staff writers Matthew Ormseth and Laura J. Nelson reported from Gilroy, and Hannah Fry, Alene Tchekmedyian, Colleen Shalby and Richard Winton from Los Angeles. Times staff writers Ruben Vives, Hailey Branson-Potts, David Montero, Patrick McGreevy and Thomas Curwen contributed to this report.


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