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February 28, 2021

Eyewitnesses to Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting describe terror at the park

Lisa Faria was turning the corner at the Gilroy Garlic Festival’s “Gourmet Alley” with Gilroy Chamber of Commerce colleague Michelle Campbell when she heard shots fired.

“I made a comment about what idiot would bring firecrackers to a garlic festival or something like that,” Faria recalled. “Then there was a lag before we heard more shots and saw just a wave of people screaming and running toward us. They were yelling, ‘Take cover! Take cover!’ So we went into an area with wooden vendor booths, and a bunch of people kept piling in behind us.”

Though sheltered by wood barriers, they felt “like sitting ducks,” Faria recounted. After a couple minutes, along with hundreds of other panicked festival-goers, Faria and Campbell sprinted across an open field to get to the parking lot.

“I think survival mode set in,” Faria said.

A security guard on scene told everyone to evacuate, she said. But many people in the parking lot had taken an Uber or Lyft to the festival and were stranded. Faria said she went to the nearby Chamber office, where a number of people were holed up under tables and behind golf carts, and offered rides to as many people as she could fit in her car.

Speaking from her home at around 9:10pm Sunday, Faria said she was “feeling a little freaked out and shocked.”

‘You felt this fear’

In a tearful phone call, Campbell echoed her friend’s sentiment. “I just feel so bad,” she said. “I saw all these people running from the stage area where a band was playing. It was this mass exodus. You felt this fear.”

Several witnesses who spoke to reporters described the gunshots as sounding like firecrackers. Not Campbell.

“I hear the first pop and I said to Lisa, ‘Did you hear that? It sounds just like gunfire,’” Campbell said. “She goes, ‘Well I didn’t see anyone screaming and I didn’t see anyone running.’”

Once they heard a rapid fire of bullets, the crowds took off.

“It’s a different sound than fireworks,” she said. “It sounds like a machine gun, like a semiautomatic weapon. There was no doubt in my mind. People just started running, and we ran into this booth and sheltered right there.”

The rapid fire stopped for a moment and then started again. 

“It was fast,” Campbell said. “It was like, ‘pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.’ It felt like it was getting closer and then stopped. We all got quiet and just prayed.

“You can’t count [the shots] when it’s that rapid-fire,” she added. “It’s crazy. There must’ve been, like, 30 to 50 shots and then a pause that was about enough time for someone to load more ammo.”

Campbell said she helped Faria load folks into cars, but there wasn’t nearly enough room.

“We did what we could,” Campbell said. “I took an old couple. The elderly man, he could barely walk and almost got trampled. Lisa took a family out of there. It was all so hectic.”

‘Blood all over’

Scenes that keep playing back in her head include images of people clutching gunshot wounds, Campbell said, and bystanders rushing to help them. “My friend has blood all over him from helping carry people,” she said. “I saw people with gunshot wounds holding their heads but walking.” 

She paused to cry.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “It hits so close to home. It’s very scary.”

The shooting happened about 20 minutes before the end of what had been a joyous festival, she lamented. Had it happened just five minutes earlier, she thinks she would have been right in the thick of the gunfire.

“I had just bought a pair of earrings from a vendor [Dilly Dally Designs] at the corner where the gunman came out,” Campbell said. “She’s someone I recognized from other festivals, and I don’t know if she’s OK. I’m trying to figure out how to get a hold of her.”

Many survivors were still trying to figure out who made it out of the festival alive. On Facebook, hundreds of people began marking themselves as “safe” using the website’s emergency notification feature.

“But there’s a lot we don’t know right now,” said Mark Turner, president of the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce.

Turner was by the amphitheater when the shots sounded and took off running—in the opposite direction of the fleeing crowds.

“I thought my wife and daughter were in that area,” he said, “so I rushed toward the gunfire.”

As he charged toward the chaos, he grabbed as many people as he could to pull them into the Chamber of Commerce beer trailer, he said.

“I helped two women who were shot,” Turner said. “A whole bunch of us were trying to help people who were shot and wounded, trying to load them in vehicles. I saw two people—a man and a woman—who appeared deceased. They were rushed out of there, and I don’t know what happened to them.”

Flashbacks in his head

As with Campbell, flashbacks of the incident continued to replay in Turner’s head. 

“You know, at times—I was telling my wife this earlier—it felt like we were helping people in slow motion,” he said. “You see blood, then you’re just grabbing people and running them to safety, and of course, the most vivid scenes were the people who appeared to be critically wounded. I don’t know if they survived.”

Another recurring image: all the people who did what they could to help.

“As I was running around attending to others, so many other non-law enforcement volunteers at the festival were doing the very same thing, trying to help people get to cover,” Turner said. “I mean, talk about heroics. I saw so many people who were doing that. That instinct just kicks in and you think, ‘I’ve got to do something.’”

Safely at home with his family, Turner said he’s trying to stay hopeful. 

“This is going to be a difficult thing to work through,” he said. “But I know we’ll come together and make this happen and figure out what we’re going to do next. I believe this can unite a community, and I believe it will unite ours.”

But he said he also knows that the trauma will continue to unfold for a long time to come.

Hannah Hernandez and her family were packing up their stand at the Gilroy Garlic Festival when Hernandez heard two pops. 

 “I was curious and I turned around, and that’s when I saw him,” she said of the gunman, who has since been identified as 19-year-old Gilroyan Santino William Legan. 

Hernandez said she saw him shoot about five bullets into the air, and that’s when she ran back into the tent her mother and father were already hiding in. 

“That way he couldn’t see us,” said Hernandez. She and her family hid inside their booth for what she believes was about 20 minutes, until someone came by and told everyone to leave. 

Jaqueline McCool contributed to this report.

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