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Gilroy grapples with knowing shooter was one of their own

Mourning in Gilroy
Laura Miller places a stuffed bear at a memorial to Gilroy shooting victims at the intersection of Uvas Parkway and Miller Avenue.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Just days ago, police cars screamed through downtown, rushing to the Garlic Festival where a gunman had killed three people and wounded a dozen more.

News outlets from all over the country descended on this small city of about 56,000 to cover the latest mass shooting. By the middle of the week, most of the news trucks and reporters had left and life in the “garlic capital of the country” was returning to its usual pace. Or trying.

Along Monterey Street, Candy Martinez leaned on the glass counter of a small party and supply store called Los Angelitos. The last few days have been emotionally exhausting, Martinez said. The shooting stole the town’s tranquility.

“You’re living in fear a little bit,” she said. “But you have two options: You continue living or you stay home because you’re afraid to go outside.”

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Like every other town that has been visited by the now-familiar plague of mass shootings, Gilroy is beginning the process of moving on. Many residents and business owners already refuse to speak about the tragedy. For many, there is a special hurt in the fact that one of their own carried out the attack.

Security was not something Martinez thought much about — until now. She said the city will host the Garlic City Car Show in August and the Tamal Festival in October. The Tamal Festival is scheduled to take place at Christmas Hill Park, where the Garlic Festival was held.

“I hope the city doubles up the security,” Martinez said.

It was around 5 p.m. Sunday when Santino William Legan cut a hole in the fence at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, clambered through and opened fire on festival-goers with an AK-47-style rifle before he was killed by police, authorities said. Three people were killed: 6-year-old Stephen Romero, 13-year-old Keyla Salazar and 25-year-old Trevor Irby.

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Witnesses told law enforcement they believed they saw a second assailant. At a recent news conference, Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee said video taken from businesses in Gilroy show that Legan was alone as he moved around town.

“Our investigation is leading us more and more to believe there was not a second person involved,” Smithee said. “We’re still following up leads because people continue to say, ‘I saw this’ or ‘I saw that,’ and we want to follow every one of those leads all the way through.”

Investigators said they are still trying to understand what motivated the 19-year-old Gilroy native to open fire Sunday. They said their best chance of figuring that out is through the gunman’s digital footprint.

“A review of digital media historically has been very revealing in terms of somebody’s mindset, ideological beliefs, intentions,” Craig Fair, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Francisco office, told reporters at a news conference.

In the last few days, investigators have collected hard drives and thumb drives from Legan’s home in Nevada, where he recently lived and purchased the rifle used in the attack, and searched his home in Gilroy.

A law enforcement source said Tuesday that authorities had recovered extremist materials during a search, though the source would not elaborate on their nature.

Authorities have reviewed social media sites and are trying to get into Legan’s phone to figure out whom he was in touch with and what sentiments he was sharing with others.

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Inside the Garlic City Barbers, Randy Rodriguez shook his head as he lined up a customer’s hairline with a straight razor.

“It’s shocking it was someone from here,” he said. “We didn’t think our community had people like that.”

Rodriguez, 33, who co-owns the barber shop near downtown, said his son was volunteering at the festival Sunday, selling misters with his teammates on the Christopher High football team, when shots rang out. Rodriguez said he didn’t know about the shooting until his son called to say he was safe.

Legan remains a much talked-about mystery in town, Rodriguez said.

As the FBI seeks a motive in the Gilroy shooting, they say gunman Santino William Legan read “conflicting literature.”

“I’ve been cutting hair here 13 years. I’ve never heard of him. All the clients are saying, ‘We don’t know who this guy is.’”

Jose Montes, a local developer, said he is mourning not just the deaths of Keyla, Stephen and Irby, but sympathizes with the Legan family as well.

“That family lost its son,” he said. “It’s just very sad to see a young individual suffering to the extent that he did what he did. I wish someone had reached him sooner.”

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Linda Ashford woke up Wednesday to news that two people had been shot to death at a Walmart in Mississippi. The shootings happen so frequently, often under such similar circumstances, she said: “We don’t remember which one is which.”

Standing behind the counter of her antiques shop, Ashford said it was strange to think the Gilroy attack probably would have become part of the blur — three dead, a dozen wounded, another in the litany of mass killings that lengthens every week — had it not happened here, where Ashford has lived for three decades.

“It’s sad because it’s not — not normal, but not surprising,” she said. “That shooting at the Walmart: What makes that anything less than what happened here?”

By Wednesday, the news trucks had mostly decamped. Downtown was quiet; it felt, Ashford said, “just a little bit off.”

“I’m not sure how to get that back — the normalcy. Maybe it’s just time,” she said. “You just got to get up the next morning and plug away.”

Len Silva was waiting outside a silkscreen shop to buy a “Gilroy Strong” shirt. A resident of nearby Hollister, Silva volunteered at the festival Friday and Saturday but stayed home Sunday. Even when people aren’t talking much about the shooting, he said, it’s clearly on their minds. “The whole town is just somber,” Silva said. “It’s kind of eerie.”

At the intersection of 6th and Forest streets, Sergio Alvarez, 81, a Marine veteran, took a rest on his walker.

“I have to keep moving at my age,” he said, chuckling.

Two years ago, Alvarez and his wife moved to Gilroy to be close to his children and grandchildren. He said he has fallen in love with the town because of its greenery and open fields that remind him of the town where he grew up in Chile.

He said the shooting was a terrible thing and he’s confused why such events keep happening in the country. He hopes that everyone will be able to heal and move on in the next few months. He has no doubts that Gilroy will recover.

“I love Gilroy,” he said.

A block from City Hall, a newspaper rack displayed copies of the Gilroy Dispatch. They were dated Friday, July 26. Over a photograph of two smiling, teenage volunteers, the headline promised a weekend of “Clove and Happiness.”


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