Multiple People Killed, Gunman Shot Dead at Gilroy Garlic Fest

Four people were killed and at least a dozen wounded in a mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival Sunday evening. The casualties include a 6-year-old boy.

Police fatally shot a gunman but are continuing to search for at least one potential additional suspect. As of 10:20pm, the shooting scene was still active, and police were asking people to stay away from Christmas Hill Park.

Four deaths were confirmed by Gilroy Police Department Chief Scot Smithee in a press conference that began after 10pm. The suspect, who was killed by a Gilroy police officer, is among the dead. Smithee said the fact that it’s an officer involved shooting adds an additional layer of complexity. The chief said it appears the shooter entered the festival grounds by cutting a fence along a creek.


The incident was reported to emergency dispatchers as an active shooter situation about 5:40pm Sunday. Videos posted to social media by festival-goers showed panicked crowds fleeing the area as gunshots rang out in the background.

Ambulances were reportedly arriving at Saint Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy with victims by about 7pm. Authorities were requesting more ambulances from San Jose to assist with casualties. Witnesses who were leaving the festival shortly after the massacre reported that at least two shooters were involved in the incident. One of the shooters was shot at the scene by police, according to the witnesses.

Gilroy police tweeted at 7:22pm that those who are looking for loved ones who might have been involved in the shooting can go to the reunification center at Gavilan College, parking lot B. Authorities urged witnesses to the shooting and those seeking to be reunited with family members to call 408.846.0583.

Hannah Hernandez and her family were packing up their vendor stand at the festival when she said she heard two pops. Her initial thought: that someone set off a firecracker. Curious, she turned around.

“That’s when I saw him,” she said.

Hernandez saw a white man who appeared to be in his 30s holding a gun. He was dressed “in some kind of uniform,” she recalled, and shot about five bullets into the air. Terrified, Hernandez bolted back into the tent where her mother and father were already hiding.

“That way he couldn’t see us,” Hernandez said.

She said she and her family hid inside their booth for 20 or so minutes, until someone came by and told everyone to leave. She said the initial exit was well organized, but that the further the group got from the park, the more frantic the scene became.

San Jose Councilman Sergio Jimenez said he was with his family at the scene of the shooting when he heard the firecracker sound so many people reported.

“Several family members and I were headed to the shuttle pick up when the shooting started,” he wrote on Facebook. “Like most people, I thought fireworks but then saw the folks closer to the area begin to run. I heard several shots and then what seemed to be gunshots from a different gun, potentially police? Chaotic scene for sure.”

Like everyone around him, the councilor said, he grabbed his kids and raced for the exit.

“Had a brief discussion with man who appeared to have been on the floor because he was caked with dirt,” Jimenez continued. “He said, ‘A guy pulled out a gun and started spraying people.’ He also said that a girl had been shot. When we left it seemed that the person was still on the loose in the western part of the park. This is the world we live in!”

Lisa Faria was turning the corner at the festival’s “Gourmet Alley” with Gilroy Chamber of Commerce colleague Michele 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 bunch 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.”

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 told San Jose Inside later that evening. “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.”

She estimated that she heard dozens of shots fired. “You can’t count ‘em when it’s that rapid fire,” she said. “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.”

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,” Campbell 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 said he 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.”

Like for 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 what 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 others 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 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.

“The hearts of Gilroy PD and the entire community go out to the victims of today’s shooting at the Garlic Festival,” police tweeted Sunday evening.

Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted at 8:26pm, “This 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.”

President Donald Trump tweeted at 8:08pm, “Law Enforcement is at the scene of shootings in Gilroy, California. Reports are that shooter has not yet been apprehended. Be careful and safe!”

Gilroy Mayor Roland Velasco took to Facebook to offer condolences to the victims. “This is a tragic incident for our community,” he said. “On behalf of the city and the Gilroy City Council our thoughts and prayers go out the victims and families.”

No further details, including any information about a suspect or suspects, have been confirmed. The festival was wrapping up its third day when the shooting occurred.

Jennifer Wadsworth, Erik Chalhoub, Barry Holtzclaw, Grace Hase, Jaqueline McCool, Michael Moore and Dan Pulcrano contributed to this report. 

2 Comments

  1. I am horrified and very sad. I am glad for the people who safe and pray for the people injured or killed

  2. This is indeed a very sad time. I was there yesterday morning. It felt it was going to be just another Garlic Festival Day with lost of people and busses around the city. It was not.

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