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Gilroy shooter’s motive may never be known as investigation finds few clues

Gilroy shooting
Garlic Festival volunteer Denise Buessing, left, embraces fellow volunteer Marsha Struzik on Sunday at a reunification center in a parking lot at Gavilan College in Gilroy, Calif.
(Josie Lepe / Associated Press)

Five days into the investigation of the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooter, authorities say they still aren’t sure why he launched the attack that killed three and injured 13.

They have gathered evidence in Gilroy, Calif., and Nevada and tried to understand his digital footprint. But they admitted they may never know why he acted.

Santino William Legan, 19, cut through a fence encircling the popular food festival Sunday evening and opened fire with an AK-47-style rifle. Three Gilroy police officers engaged Legan and killed him within a minute, but not before he shot to death three people: Stephen Romero, 6; Keyla Salazar, 13; and Trevor Irby, 25.

Here is what we know:

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What evidence have they found?

John Bennett, FBI special agent in charge, said they had not determined the ideology of the Gilroy shooter and had recovered “conflicting literature” during searches in Nevada and Gilroy.

Authorities are bringing in two profilers to help build a picture of the gunman.

Full coverage of Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting

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Among the “information we are collecting, there is conflicting literature ... everything from left to right,” Bennett said. So investigators do not feel they can “put this person in a box. I wouldn’t say it was extreme views. It is writings and books that we have found through some of the search warrants.... We are trying to go through all the literature and make sense of it,” he said.

Authorities in Nevada searched a triplex unit where Legan lived. Court documents showed they retrieved items including a bulletproof vest, empty weapon and ammunition boxes, a pocketknife, a gun light, a camouflage backpack, pamphlets on guns, a sack of ammo casings, a gas mask and gloves.

The gunman did not appear to target people of a particular race, a law enforcement official said Thursday, pushing back on speculation — fueled by racist comments posted on the gunman’s Instagram account — that he was motivated by white supremacist beliefs.

They also took electronics: three hard drives, three thumb drives, a flip phone and a computer tower. They found a letter to Legan from a woman, according to the court records.

What about that Instagram post?

Before the attack, Legan posted a photo on Instagram 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.

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.

Did he target certain people during the shooting rampage?

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Authorities say right now, the answer appears to be no.

Bennett said it “doesn’t seem clear he was targeting any particular group. It seems very random at this point.”

Was the attack spontaneous or planned?

Authorities say he planned the atack.

Legan went shopping alone at several big-box stores in the area. It’s unclear what he bought, but sometime in the afternoon, authorities say, he drove to the festival to carry out the shooting.

He parked on the northeast side of the festival grounds, carrying a bag of ammunition and an AK-47-style rifle he’d recently purchased in Nevada. He left a shotgun behind in the car and made his way up a heavily wooded creek — ditching the bag on the way — and eventually cut through a fence to get inside. That way, he avoided security and metal detectors.


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