Sister tells of two survivors of Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting

Woman and husband ran toward shooter at Gilroy Garlic Festival

Wendy Towner was standing behind the vendor tent for her family business, the Honey Ladies, at the Gilroy Garlic Festival late in the afternoon of Sunday, July 28.
A staple at many Bay Area farmers markets, the Honey Ladies were selling their garlic and habanero varietals that afternoon.
The Honey Ladies owner later recounted to her sister, Christine Towner, that she saw a man climbing a fence behind the row of booths and carrying an assault rifle. Wendy Towner ran toward him, screaming, “No, you’re not gonna do this here! This isn’t gonna happen!”
Christine Towner did not attend the festival, but she said she has kept in close contact with those who did, especially her sister. The sisters are neighbors in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The gunman killed three people that afternoon before shooting himself in the midst of a shootout with Gilroy police officers. Another 13 were injured, including Wendy Towner and her husband Francisco Aguilar. Both are still hospitalized at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose.
Christine Towner believes that her sister’s actions momentarily startled the guman and alerted others to take cover.
“She was just trying to stop it and slow it down and hope that she could save everybody,” said Christine Towner. “She was so upset that she couldn’t save those three lives.”
Wendy Towner was the first one shot that day, her sister said. Aguilar, who ran after her as she charged the shooter, was the second.
After the couple fell, the gunman’s weapon appeared to have jammed, and Wendy Towner said he walked over to where they lay in the grass, bleeding from gunshot wounds and asked, in a calm voice, if they were OK. Her sister and brother-in-law quietly played dead, she said.
The gunman, later identified as 19-year-old Santino William Legan, dropped a gun magazine next to Wendy’s head and opened fire on the crowd. Aguilar’s 3-year-old son was playing on a nearby inflatable slide and started running through the gunfire toward his parents, when a family friend’s 11-year-old granddaughter saw the boy, grabbed him and pulled him under a table in the booth as shots buzzed overhead.
First responders thought Aguilar wouldn’t survive, said Christine Towner. She said he was shot in his shoulder and twice in his leg, with one of the bullets hitting his femoral artery. “They were not sure if he was going to make it to the hospital,” she said, adding that the doctors now expect both victims to make a “pretty good recovery.”
Her sister will need plastic surgery and to wear a leg brace for the rest of her life, according to Towner. Aguilar will need skin grafts. Between the two of them, they had nine surgeries in the first week. In the initial days of the couple’s hospitalization, Christine brought in a cell phone so that they could Facetime with one other. Now the two are staying in nearby rooms, and Wendy is able to visit her husband in a wheelchair.
As of Aug. 5, two fundraisers on had raised $94,000 combined, in addition to another fundraiser by Mountain Bible Church.
Christine Towner can’t forget when she first arrived at the hospital with Wendy’s 15-year-old daughter, their pulses racing and pumping with adrenaline. Wendy had a breathing mask over her face and was wrapped up in cords that hooked her up to machines. But as soon as the two of them saw Wendy, they felt a sense of relief wash over them as all the nervous energy drained from her bodies.
“It’s one thing to have someone tell you that your family member’s alive,” Christine says. “It’s another to actually see them and physically touch them. That sense of relief that they’re actually OK—you don’t get that full effect until you can actually see for yourself.”
Jacob Pierce is news editor of Good Times, a sister newspaper.