Memorial pays tribute to victims of festival shooting

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PAYING TRIBUTE Attendees of the Gilroy Garlic Festival who witnessed the shooting on July 28, 2019 stand during a memorial one year later at Christmas Hill Park. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

When shooting broke out at Christmas Hill Park on July 28, 2019, one mother had to make a split-second decision.

Her son was less than 10 feet away, but she knew she couldn’t reach him faster than a bullet from the gunman’s rifle. Should she run toward her son to grab him, yet risk being shot? Or worse, would her son run toward her and catch the attention of the gunman?

The mother stretched out her hand to try to grab her son, but her arm was trampled by the numerous people fleeing the scene. It is an image that will haunt her forever, she later told counselors.

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen told the stories of the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival mass shooting during a memorial at Christmas Hill Park on July 28, a year later and on the hour of the most horrific tragedy in Gilroy’s recent history.

There was the veteran who hadn’t heard gunfire since his days in the service. His instinct was to leap on the nearest children he could find to get them away from the bullets’ trajectory.

There was the volunteer who was looking after a group of children. She was forced to stay barricaded with them, not knowing if her own son, who was wandering the grounds at the time the shooting began, was alive.

The memorial was organized by the DA’s Office’s Gilroy Strong Resiliency Center, which provides services such as individual and group counseling for all those affected by the shooting. A limited number of people were invited to attend in-person due to the ongoing public health order, while the public was invited to watch it live online.

The shooting by 19-year-old Santino Legan left three dead—Trevor Irby, Keyla Salazar and Stephen Romero—and 17 injured. Investigators say the incident lasted a minute.

“Those 60 seconds were a time of evil, but that minute, and the hours, days, weeks and months that followed, showed Gilroy’s defiant answer to evil,” Rosen said. “Our answer to evil was courage, service, empathy and finally, resilience. Our answer is that we are back, and evil is not.”

The three Gilroy Police officers who ran toward the gunfire and took Legan down—Robert Basuino, Eric Cryar and Hugo Del Moral—each received a medal of honor during the memorial.

“How many could the perpetrator have shot in two minutes?” Rosen said, adding that the gunman arrived at the festival with close to 300 rounds of ammunition. “The reason he did not murder or maim hundreds more was because of three incredibly brave Gilroy Police officers.”

The Gilroy Police Foundation will launch a scholarship fund in the officers’ names beginning with the high school class of 2021, Rosen announced. Scholarships will go to graduating seniors who have shown exemplary service to their community.

Rosen said the District Attorney’s Office will donate $10,000 to begin the fund.

The memorial included a video tribute to the three who died, as well as a pre-recorded performance by the Gilroy High School Chamber Singers. 

Standing in front of a memorial that was constructed in the month after the shooting, Rosen said Christmas Hill Park will not be defined by the tragedy, “a horror story told through the years.”

“This park is and will be families,” he said. “This park is and will be a symbol of this proud and resilient community. This is a place that will not back down. It is Gilroy strong.”

Earlier on July 28, the Gilroy City Council and city staff held a brief ceremony at Christmas Hill Park, where the Gilroy Police Department Honor Guard raised a Gilroy Strong flag.

“No community, no family, no person should have to experience the tragedy that happened last year,” Mayor Roland Velasco said. “In the aftermath of this terrible and tragic incident, our community came together in solidarity and in support of everyone who suffered and experienced loss that tragic day.”