The impact of someone dying always hits me hardest the next morning, when the sun rises and they are not there to see it. And never will be again.
That’s kind of what it feels like this morning as I watch the sunrise in Gilroy, knowing that friends and neighbors won’t be awake to see it.
Sunday afternoon I walked into the Gilroy Garlic Festival to pick up my daughter Emmie, age 17, who had been working there all day as a volunteer at the Home Depot tent in the children’s section on the north side of Christmas Hill Park, near the amphitheater.
We met somewhere in the middle of the park, and I exchanged pleasantries with Emmie’s volunteer coordinator. Then we decided to walk over to the entertainment venues where many of the volunteers were gathering along with a large group of festival goers who stayed after the 5 o’clock closing hour to listen to a headlining band playing their last few songs.
It’s always a hot and dry day there, but everybody was in great spirits and having a good time.
The garlic festival is one of the most multicultural events I’ve ever experienced. People from around the Bay Area mix with people from right here in Gilroy to enjoy good food, good music and good friends.
Emmie had just ordered some food and we were walking to the picnic table area when the shooting started.
It began with a continuous stream of loud, semi automatic gunfire. I could tell it was not firecrackers. On the Fourth of July fireworks are shot off all over this park, and they don’t sound anything like this. Nor was there any smoke or flash. It was just a long stream of semi automatic gunfire followed by about six or eight additional shots.
I looked over my shoulder to see what was happening and the entire audience of the music venue was stampeding toward my daughter and I. It was about 400-600 people, all running within an eerie sort of silence that indicated to me that most people still did not comprehend what was happening.
I pushed my daughter toward a haybale that was being used to keep people from tipping over the tent pole. She ducked behind it and I could see several other people doing the same thing. People were hiding behind trees and kiosks, anything they could find.
Almost at the same time security personnel and uniformed police officers began running toward the gunfire, There were golf carts full of security and individual officers running with their guns already drawn, telling people to leave behind us, that there was an active shooter ahead.
We stayed pretty much where we were, not sure if the gunfire would start up again. Eventually some of the security officers and police cadets moved back toward where everyone was and told them to evacuate the area, that the north west end of the park was still an active shooting area and no one would be allowed there, and that we must go south east toward Gilroy High school.
We ended up having to take a long path through the woods and eventually ending up on the levee between the high school and the river. From that vantage point we could see life flight helicopters landing at the high school baseball stadium, picking up the injured, and flying off again. At least a half a dozen ambulances also came and left. The whole time sirens heralded more emergency vehicles including ambulances, fire engines and police from every precinct in two counties.
Rumors began to spread that there were four people down and there were two shooters. Eventually we heard that one of the shooters was down. After that we heard an updated report of 11 people having been injured and at least two people killed.
It took my daughter and I about an hour-and-a-half to get home.
I still can’t comprehend why anybody would do that. The Garlic Festival is pretty well known but it’s still a local event it’s still a fun multicultural gathering point. It’s still a family event.
It’s not the sort of place where you would expect anyone to try to make a statement with a semi-automatic weapon.
On our way home we learned that one of the victims was a cheerleader at a local high school. Another was a six-year-old boy.
The sheer senselessness of taking the lives of children leaves me dumbstruck.
And still the sun rises.
Dan Holden is a longtime journalist and web content producer who lives in Gilroy.