GILROY, Calif. – As the three-day Gilroy Garlic Festival was winding down at the weekend, a 19-year-old opened fire with an AK-47 style semiautomatic rifle, killing a 6-year-old boy, a 13-year-old girl and a man in his 20s and injuring 12 others, police said.
The shooter did it in minutes, police said, even with tight security, in a state where such weapons are heavily restricted and at a time when many Americans are on guard for the next mass shooting.
The suspect, Santino William Legan, wasn’t on law enforcement’s radar before the shooting, a law-enforcement official said.
He purchased a WASR-10 AK-47-style rifle in Nevada where such guns are legal and can be sold to anyone 18 and over, law-enforcement officials said. And he avoided the festival’s public entrance where security was checking bags by cutting through a fence that surrounded the grounds, police said.
“It has always been a safe place for us,” said Cheryl Low, 56, who was working at a vendor’s booth at the festival. “The security was fine out there. When people want to do this, they know how, and what they are doing, and they are going to do it regardless.”
The attack could have been far more devastating if not for three of the many officers posted at the festival who were on the scene in less than a minute after the first reports of gunfire at 5:41 pm.
The officers were able to kill him “despite the fact they were outgunned with handguns against a rifle,” said Scott Smithee, Gilroy police chief, at a briefing Monday.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of the officers for being able to engage him so quickly,” said Chief Smithee. “We had thousands of people there in a very small area.”
Investigators have yet to uncover a motive, Chief Smithee said. On Monday, police cars were lined in front of the suspected shooter’s family home in the suburban neighborhood here.
A post made on an Instagram account bearing Legan’s name just before the attack said “Ayyy garlic festival time Come get wasted on overpriced shit.” Another post ranted about paving over open space to make room for “mestizos and Silicon Valley white tw--s.”
On Monday, Big Mike’s Guns and Ammo in Fallon, Nevada, where he bought the gun, said on Facebook that Legan seemed normal when he picked up the rifle.
“When I did see him, he was acting happy and showed no reason for concern,” the post said.
Legan purchased his AK-47-style rifle there on July 9, law-enforcement officials said. It appears that he was a resident of Nevada when he made the purchase, they said.
Such guns can be modified to comply with California’s tight restrictions on what the state classifies as assault weapons, but the one the shooter used wasn’t, they said.
It had a detachable magazine and investigators found multiple 30-round magazines at the scene of the shooting, officials said. In California, the legal age for purchasing a rifle is 21.
Chief Smithee said investigators haven’t found confirmation that there was a second suspect involved in the shooting. Dozens of police officers were searching a wooded area outside the fairgrounds for a second suspect who may have helped, the police said.
Every summer, the Gilroy Garlic Festival draws tens of thousands of families to this city of about 50,000 people, 51 kilometers (32 miles) south of San Jose for the music, kids games and, of course, the food — such as garlic ice cream.
With tight security at the public entrances, and plenty of police patrolling the grounds, festival goers and volunteers say it has never been a dangerous place.
“The festival in general has always felt safe,” said Maria Guzman, 17, who was volunteering this year at a booth serving up pepper steak sandwiches.