GILROY, Calif. — The smell of barbecue was wafting through the air, a local rock band was playing its last song, and parents were collecting their children at the end of the annual garlic festival in Gilroy on Sunday when a gunman opened fire in a shooting that left three people dead, including a 6-year-old boy.
On Monday, Chief Scot Smithee of the Gilroy Police Department identified the gunman as Santino William Legan, 19, and said he carried out the shooting with an AK-47-type semiautomatic weapon that he had purchased legally this month in Nevada. He said the gunman’s motive was not known.
The chief said those killed were a 6-year-old boy, a 13-year-old girl, and a man in his 20s. The boy, Stephen Romero, was shot in the back, said his father, Alberto. Romero’s wife, who was shot in the stomach, and mother-in-law, who was shot in the leg, were among a dozen people wounded in the attack at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.
“My son had his whole life to live and he was only 6,” Romero told NBC Bay Area.
Romero said he was at home with his 9-year-old daughter when he got the call about the shooting. He was also told that Stephen had been playing at an inflatable bounce house.
“They told me he was in critical condition, that they were working on him,” he told The Mercury News. “And then five minutes later they told me he was dead.”
Police were continuing to search for a possible accomplice in Gilroy, which is about 30 miles southeast of San Jose.
California, which has seen mass shootings at a country music club and a synagogue in the last year, has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. With few exceptions, the possession, manufacture, transfer, sale, or lending of modified semiautomatic weapons is prohibited within the state, and recent legislation raised the age for buying rifles and shotguns from 18 to 21.
The shooting happened around 5:40 p.m. local time and police responded within one minute, Smithee said. To reach the festival, the suspect appeared to have crossed a bordering creek and cut a perimeter fence, he said at a Sunday night news conference.
“It’s sort of a nightmare you hope you never have to live in reality,” the chief said.
The Gilroy Garlic Festival is an annual three-day event held at Christmas Hill Park. Gilroy, a city of about 60,000 people, is a major producer of garlic and is home to agricultural workers and people who commute to technology jobs.
On Monday morning, red and white festival parking signs still lined residential streets around Christmas Hill Park. Several rows of pickup trucks, sedans and golf carts remained parked along the grass behind yellow crime-scene tape.
Officers from several local and state law enforcement agencies tightly controlled access to the park, and a handwritten sign posted at nearby Gavilan College said that campus would be closed for the day.
Christmas Hill Park is just off a busy thoroughfare between two new subdivisions under construction on the southwestern edge of Gilroy. In recent years, the agricultural town located at the end of the Bay Area commuter rail line has grown into an extended Silicon Valley suburb.
The festival’s executive director, Brian Bowe, said at a news conference that for several decades the event had acted as a kind of family reunion and that the shooting was “a sad, horribly upsetting circumstance.”
Marie Blankley, the mayor pro tempore, called it “heartbreaking and tragic,” and Governor Gavin Newsom said on Twitter that it was “nothing short of horrific.” Senator Kamala Harris, a California Democrat, added that “our country has a gun violence epidemic that we cannot tolerate.”
Videos posted on social media showed attendees running past white tents in a grassy field, apparently fleeing. People looking to reunite with friends and family members had been told to gather at Gavilan College, a community college on the outskirts of the city.
One of those injured was Lesley Sanchez, 15, a Gilroy High School cheerleader who was volunteering at the festival, according to family members. She was shot in the hip but was well enough to receive visitors in her hospital room Sunday night, they said.
Olivia Chiu, 24, a festival attendee from San Francisco, said she and her boyfriend heard gunshots that seemed to come from a central area near food and merchandise vendors.
“Everyone was in a state of panic and trying to escape out of the festival to a safer area,” she said.
She said she and several others ran out of the park and into a neighborhood, where they knocked on doors in search of shelter.
Jonathan Williams, 29, who was raised in Gilroy, was sitting on a hay bale when he heard what he thought were fireworks. When the sound did not stop, he realized they were gunshots — at least 20.
He saw lots of people, including children with their parents, running frantically and hiding under anything they could find.
“There were people jumping in closed booth tents, hiding under tables,” he said.