(Gilroy Police press conference video)

Gunman Cuts Perimeter Fence to Attack Popular California Garlic Festival

California’s legendary annual celebration of fragrant bulbs was attacked at the end of its third and last day, sending festivalgoers scrambling through the expansive fairgrounds to escape gunfire.

More than 80,000 people attended the Gilroy Garlic Festival last year, a statewide draw to the city of 50,000 about 20 miles south of San Jose. The festival of food booths, concert stages and vendors is held in 51-acre Christmas Hill Park, on the east edge of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Gilroy Police Chief Scott Smithee told a Sunday evening press conference that shooting began at 5:41 p.m. While there were wand and bag searches for attendees coming into the festival grounds, the shooter and a potential second suspect gained entry by using an undetermined tool to cut through a fence on the perimeter of the festival grounds along a creek.

Smithee said officers, who were already on scene providing event security, engaged the shooter within a minute and killed him. The shooter was later identified as 19-year-old Santino William Legan, who lives in the area but on July 9 purchased an SKS rifled in Nevada.

Legan killed Stephen Romero, 6, Keyla Salazar, 13, and Trevor Irby, 25. A dozen were wounded, including Stephen’s mother and grandmother.

Smithee didn’t have a description for the second potential suspect who “may have been in a support role,” and who existence is in question; officers were tracking down leads based on witness reports that they saw a subject leaving area who they thought was associated with the shooter.

“I have no idea what the motive is at this point,” he said. Asked whether the victims were picked randomly, Smithee replied that “it appears at least initially it was somewhat random as he moved out into the festival area.”

Witnesses described a white male in his 30s or 40s, wearing a green top (possibly camouflage), a kerchief tied at his neck, dark shorts and a ball cap, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and firing dozens of rounds with potentially one reload.

Gilroy Police cautioned people to stay away from the park as darkness fell, tweeting, “This is still an active crime scene. We will be sharing information with the media soon and thank you for your patience during this rapidly evolving situation.” Police recovered a weapon and ammunition at the scene.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted that the mass shooting “is nothing short of horrific.”

“Tonight, CA stands with the Gilroy community. My office is monitoring the situation closely. Grateful for the law enforcement’s efforts and their continued work as this situation develops,” he said.

The FBI is assisting with the investigation.

This story was updated on 7/29/19

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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