Neighbor says 19-year-old gunman’s family is ‘friendly’ and ‘very popular’

Patty Lopez hugs her daughter Pricilla during a vigil outside of Gilroy City Hall for the victims of a mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival a day earlier, in Gilroy, California, US, July 29, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

What makes a “normal” young man pick up an assault rifle and carry out a killing spree? Larry Scettrini, a longtime Gilroy resident, couldn’t understand what changed his neighbor into a relentless gunman.

“It was terrible. It happened too close in our city and the person (the gunman) lived on the same street,” Scettrini, a retired mental health worker of Santa Clara County, told China Daily in his living room.

Several media vans had been parked along his street since early Monday morning, while the police were investigating the family home of the shooter, 19-year-old Santino William Legan.

On Sunday evening, Legan opened fire with an “AK-47-style” assault rifle at people attending the Gilroy Garlic Festival in a park, about 30 minutes’ walk from his home.

Before he was shot dead by police, Legan killed a 6-year-old boy, a 13-year-old girl and a man in his 20s, and injured at least 12 others. Police and FBI investigations are trying to determine a motive for the shooting.

Scettrini said Legan, the youngest of four sons, appeared “very normal” though he had never spoken with him. “His parents are very hardworking. They seem to be devoted to the family, and they are very popular in the neighborhood. They are always talkative and friendly,” he said.

Gilroy, 50 kilometers southeast of Silicon Valley with a population of 55,000, is known for its garlic industry. Entering its 42nd year, the garlic festival is described by many residents as a “family friendly” event which is about “food, drinks, music and volunteering”.

“People from all over the world come here – ‘Garlic Capital of the World’ – that’s what we are known for,” Ben, who gave only first name, told China Daily.

At the time of the shooting, Ben was volunteering at the festival’s “Gourmet Alley”. “I heard multiple shots coming from the other end of the park. It was maybe a dozen or more shots. Then it stopped for a few moments, and then it started up again. Very rapid shots,” he recalled.

At first, Ben said he thought it was fireworks. But when he saw people running from the direction of the sound, he realized it was gunfire. “For a moment I feared for my own life, but then I feared for the life of others. So we started to get people to evacuate, get down and hide,” he said.

Among those Ben and his team helped was a woman badly injured by gunshots. They performed chest compressions on the woman and transported her out of the area in a golf cart.

“Even though we are starting to branch out to bigger areas, at a core, we are still a small, close-knit community – the majority have gone to school with each other. People who grow up here have become teachers, families know each other,” he said.

Heartbroken

In contrast with the young festival volunteers, Legan posted photographs from the festival on Instagram shortly before the shooting, with captions of “Ayyy garlic festival time” and “Come get wasted on overpriced shit”.

“It’s broken our heart. It’s dreadful. He’s a local kid, and many people have known him,” Rose Barry told China Daily while helping set up a prayer vigil for the victims at St. Mary’s Church.

She recalled that the last major violence of Gilroy Garlic Festival was a stabbing incident 15 years ago. “We’ve learned a lot since then about crowd control and reaction,” she said.

The event’s website says “weapons of any kind are prohibited”. Police said Legan cut through a fence at the festival to evade metal detectors and other security measures at the front entrance. Although the rifle he used is outlawed in California, Legan bought it in he neighboring state of Nevada, police have said.

“Guns like the one the shooter used and many of the shooters have used have no business with civilian hands. They should not be sold to individuals,” said Barry. “That’s a weapon of war; that belongs with the armed forces and only the armed forces.”

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