A fatal gun accident is hitting “home on a lot of levels” as community members process the loss of a young life cut painfully short.
As the reality of Thursday’s surreal tragedy echoes throughout South County and beyond, sentiments of support are now trickling in for the “all-American” Gilroy mother and her “well-respected husband” as they cope with the aftermath of a fatal gun accident that killed their 3-year-old son.
Those familiar with Brandon Orlando – a veteran San Jose police officer of nine years described as “a very skilled and hardworking cop,” and his wife Julie, a “loyal” and “family-oriented” teacher – heap praise on the “exceptional parents” who were “just great kids.”
“My heart’s been hurting all day for them,” said Jack Daley, a veteran Gilroy High School staff member of more than 20 years. “It’s hit home on a lot of levels. It’s tragic.”
His memories illuminate the young couple as the kind of Gilroy born-and-raised teenagers a hometown could be proud of.
After bumping into the pair last May during the annual Cioppino Feed and Dance at Christopher Ranch, “it was exciting to see them and hear about how their lives have been moving on,” recalled Daley, a former GHS athletic director who got to know Brandon and Julie while coaching football and working with the Associated Student Body. “They’ve done so well.”
The starting varsity running back and “outgoing” cheerleader graduated from GHS in 1998 and 1999. The couple recently marked their eighth anniversary after tying the knot July 3, 2004 at the Hayes Mansion in San Jose.
Brandon and Julie now have an older daughter who is in the second or third grade, according to Christopher High School Principal John Perales.
The couple’s son, Preston Lawrence Orlando, celebrated his third birthday on June 23.
According to reports, it’s likely the toddler accidentally shot himself with a handgun in the upstairs bedroom of a home on the 7500 block of Kentwood Court off Third Street in Gilroy around 5 p.m. Thursday. Police confirmed late Thursday night that the boy died from his wounds en route to the hospital.
San Jose police spokesman Sgt. Jason Dwyer said at least 40 officers visited Brandon and his family that evening.
“I saw him at the hospital that night, and he was understandably very upset,” recalled Dwyer. “I’ve had a little bit of contact with him since then, and I can tell you that he and his family are just going to have to work through this. It’s not going to be an easy time. It’s just bad any way you slice it.”
Most of Brandon’s police work has been with the SJPD, according to Dwyer, who said Brandon’s experience spans narcotics and gang cases.
Dwyer, who once served as Brandon’s supervisor in late 2010, described his colleague as “a great, fun guy to be around” and a “positive force in the team.”
Brandon and Julie’s shining track records in life, work and school trace back to a solid family support system, according to those who know the couple.
“They come from very good families and were very respected among their peers,” noted Sal Tomasello, who served as GHS Athletic Director when Brandon and Julie were in high school. “What a tragedy … I can’t even imagine.”
CHS Principal John Perales, one of Brandon’s former GHS football coaches, coined the San Jose police officer as “the kind of guy where I could call him out of the blue and say, ‘Hey, I need you to help me,’ and I can guarantee he’ll be there.”
Tomasello’s recollection of Brandon paints a similar portrayal.
“He was just a fine young man, a good student, good athlete and kind of quiet,” remembers Tomasello. “He wasn’t the one that would do things to draw attention to himself … he was just a fine young man.”
Getting to know Brandon – an “outstanding” individual who “worked really hard” during his four years on the football team – was “a pleasure,” Daley added.
Support and respect are equally stellar for Julie, the daughter of longtime Gilroy area swimming coach Jeff Ross. Julie’s older sister Jennifer (Ross) Barbaglia was crowned Miss Gilroy Garlic in 1993.
“She’s a great girl who grew into a great woman,” said Perales’s wife, Leighan, who coached Julie on the GHS cheerleading squad. “She always has this great smile on her face. She’s sort of the ‘All-American girl.’ She’s loyal. She had a lot of great friends, and still does.”
Julie graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies and a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential. Since getting married, starting a family and working as a teacher in San Jose, Leighan says Julie is a “family-oriented” wife and mother who enjoys spending time with her nieces and nephews. Julie has four sisters: Jennifer, Jaime, Jodi and Jasmine.
“When this happens to somebody you’re so close to, you can’t help but just let it completely affect your life,” said Leighan.
More than a decade has transcended since Daley last interacted with Julie as a student in high school, where she was active with student government and at one point served as vice president of the Associated Student Body. Daley easily recalls Julie’s “motivation” and “focus,” however.
Deciding to become a teacher was “a good fit for her personality and her abilities,” he noted.
Any talk of Brandon and Julie, for that matter, is noticeably accompanied by benevolent words of kindness for their parents.
After rushing over Thursday to offer their support and condolences to Julie’s mother and father – Lorraine and Jeff Ross – Perales said the grandparents are a “strong” couple, “but they’re having a really hard time.”
“He lives for his kids and grandkids,” said Perales, who is good friends with Jeff. “He’s always thinking about how he’s going to spend the weekend with them. It’s just a really neat, tight family.”
Daley, similarly, made a point to highlight Brandon’s parents – Larry and Lynn Orlando, “who have been so kind to us in helping with the Cioppino feed” each year.
Plans for a memorial service honoring Preston are in the works, according to Chaplain Dave Bridgen with the San Jose Police Department. Bridgen says the family is considering opening services to the public, though no details have been cemented yet.
In the aftermath of a shocking loss that continues to stun and sadden a community at large, Leighan hopes that family, friends and those who don’t know the young couple personally “will just surround them with prayers and support.”
“They’re just fabulous people through and through,” she concluded.