For many people across the world, there are few things better than spending a day out with their family. With that in mind, the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California is ideal for large groups over the summer every year. Tragically, though, a horrific shooting marked the 2019 event.
In August 2019, two mass shootings occurred in the U.S. in the space of around 24 hours. The first occurred in El Paso, Texas, which resulted in the deaths of over 20 people. Following that, another shooting took place in Dayton, Ohio, the next day, with the gunman killing nine individuals.
However, just a few days before those incidents, another tragedy struck in California. At that time, visitors were enjoying the last day of the Gilroy Garlic Festival, a yearly event that brings together thousands of people. Keyla Salazar and her family were among that number in the late afternoon.
During that period, Salazar was tucking into some dessert alongside her siblings, completely unaware of what was about to happen. As the gunshots started to ring out, her family then tried to escape the area. However, the teenager refused to move, as she assisted one of her other elderly relatives in the panic.
Throughout 2019, the American people have faced down some terrifying moments. Indeed, by the end of July, close to 250 mass shootings had taken place in various parts of the country. And those attacks left 246 people killed, with just under 1,000 individuals injured.
During that particular period, the deadliest shooting took place in Virginia Beach, Virginia, at the back-end of May. And over the course of around 35 minutes, the culprit gunned down 12 individuals inside a local town hall. Alongside that, four more people suffered injuries before the authorities took out the shooter.
Following the incident, the city’s vice mayor then shared his thoughts with CBSN. Unsurprisingly, the attack left him devastated. James Wood said in June 2019, “I think the thing that’s gone through my mind and everybody else is we know these people. I don’t say I’m in shock, I’m numbed.”
However, another Virginia Beach official offered some strong words to the press while standing next to the city’s authorities. After the shooting, Aaron Rouse told reporters, “We will determine, going forward today, how we respond to our city. We will come together. We will show the strength of our city.”
Meanwhile, off the back of the Virginia Beach tragedy, 100 more mass shootings took place in the U.S. over the next two months. But of all those awful moments, though, one really stood out. As the month of July was coming to an end, a man named Santino William Legan staged an attack at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California.
Armed with what Fox News called an “AK-47-type assault rifle,” Legan opened fire at the festival’s visitors in the late afternoon. Then just a few moments later, a small group of police officers intervened, hoping to stop the chaos as quickly as possible. And in the resulting shoot-out, they were able to put the attacker down.
The following day, Scot Smithee of the Gilroy Police Department recalled the horrific event while talking to the press. He said, “Despite the fact that they were outgunned with their handguns against a rifle, those three officers were able to fatally wound that suspect. It could have gotten so much worse, so fast.”
For his part, the city’s mayor also responded to the incident a short time later. During that address, Roland Volasco touched upon the number of shootings across the United States prior to the latest attack. Furthermore, he shared some kind words about the authorities in attendance as well, mirroring what Smithee previously suggested.
Volasco told the media, “Mass gun violence is an epidemic in the United States, yet one can never imagine such a thing would happen here in our beautiful community. [The police officers] undoubtedly saved many lives by putting their own lives in danger.” He added, “It takes remarkable bravery to run to a shooting when the natural reaction for all of us is to run away.”
Sadly, though, the attack still claimed the lives of three people at the festival, despite the officers’ fast response. On that note, the coroner released their names to the public later that day. Stephen Romero was the youngest of those killed, as he’d just turned six in June 2019.
Much like many other people at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, Romero was enjoying the event with his family. When the attack eventually began, he got caught in the crossfire alongside his mom and grandmother. But while the two women survived their injuries, the youngster sadly wasn’t as fortunate.
Later that evening, Romero’s dad Albert spoke to NBC Bay Area outside a local hospital, clearly devastated by what had happened. He said, “I lost my son. There’s nothing I really can do besides be with him until I can put him in his resting spot, wherever that is. I don’t know what to say.”
Alberto’s heartbreaking words didn’t end there, though. The father added, “My son had his whole life to live, he was only six. That’s all I can say.” Then off the back of that interview, one of Romero’s other grandparents, Marivel Romero, spoke up as well, sharing her thoughts with ABC7 News.
Prior to that conversation, Smithee revealed that shooter Santino William Legan might’ve had a partner, which Marivel then touched upon. She told the TV station, “It has to be someone really sick. Because shooting a kid… it’s a family event. I just hope there is justice and they catch the last person, or the other person, and that there’s justice.”
Meanwhile, the coroner named Trevor Irby as the second casualty. A former resident of New York, the 25-year-old had finished his studies at Keuka College a couple of years before the incident. His partner was also at the Gilroy Garlic Festival at the time, but she avoided any harm.
Following the shooting, Irby’s old college released a message to the public, penned by its president Amy Storey. She wrote, “Our hearts go out to [Irby’s] family and loved ones. We are shocked that this latest episode of senseless gun violence resulted in the loss of one of our recent graduates.”
However, there was still one more casualty to confirm. Alongside Romero and Irby, the coroner revealed that Keyla Salazar had died as well. A resident of San Jose, California, she was just 13 years old when she arrived at the food festival in July, with her birthday on the horizon.
Salazar was an aspiring animator with a talent for sketching, eyeing a job in the former sector before her passing. The previous month, the teenager had also finished her middle school studies. And she was particularly proud of that achievement, having had to work around her autism to earn the diploma.
On the day of Salazar’s death, she was at the Gilroy Garlic Festival with several members of her family. Just before the shooting started, the 13-year-old was enjoying some ice cream with her siblings, taking in the surroundings of the event. Tragically, no one could’ve predicted what happened next.
When Legan opened fire, Salazar’s family attempted to flee the area as quickly as they could. But while they ran, she decided to hang back and assist one of her relatives instead, who required a walking stick. During the chaos, the teenager’s step-dad caught sight of her collapsing to the ground.
As it turned out, Salazar had taken a bullet in the upper torso, leading to her passing. A couple of days later, the youngster’s aunt then wrote a message on social media that confirmed the horrible news. In addition to that, Katiuska Pimentel also had something to say about the help the family received in the aftermath.
“Unfortunately, my niece Keyla was not able to make it and died at the scene,” Pimentel wrote on Facebook in July 2019. “I have no words to describe this pain I’m feeling. Keyla, you are an angel and we will miss you with all of our hearts. You were too young to be taken from us.”
However, Pimental’s heartbreaking post didn’t end there. The aunt added, “We are all devastated and broken and need time to heal and process. Thank you so much to our community for supporting us. From the bottom of our hearts, muchas gracias. Send us love and positive energy. We are all processing, and this has been really hard for all of us.”
Since being posted, Pimental’s message has made a big impact on Facebook, with users flocking to offer their condolences. For its part, the post has earned over 2,000 likes and more than 1,500 shares in that time. Alongside that, it’s generated over 600 comments as well, most of which were incredibly supportive.
“Our deepest condolences to you and your family who have been affected by this horrific tragedy,” wrote one social media user in the Facebook comments section. They continued, “Your niece… was truly an angel as she waited behind to help her disabled relative. May she rest in peace. Keeping prayers for your family.”
Meanwhile, another Facebook user, who struggled to contain their emotions after reading the post also shared those sentiments. They said, “I’m so so sorry. As I write this, I am in tears. I’m sorry you endure such pain. I pray that God hugs you in your time of sorrow. Your family remains in our prayers.”
Meanwhile, a fellow social media user wanted to get something off their chest in the comments section. Following the number of mass shootings in America in 2019, they demanded a significant change. The user wrote on Facebook, “My most sincere condolences on the loss of your niece.”
The user added, “I hope that her death and the death of the other two precious souls are a wake-up call. We need gun reform in this country so that no other families have to suffer this type of senseless loss. Prayers for peace and comfort for you, and all who knew and loved Keyla.”
Prior to writing up that social media post, Pimentel had also spoken to the popular news website BuzzFeed. And during their interview in July 2019 she spoke about Salazar in a bit more detail, touching upon her personality and interests at home. But the aunt’s kind words didn’t stop there.
Pimentel said, “We just want Keyla to be remembered as someone that is beautiful. She really cared a lot about other people. She loved animals, she had big dreams and aspirations, and her life was cut short. [Keyla] was just, like, a really caring, friendly kid who really liked to help people.”
From there, Pimentel looked to make an important point regarding gun control in the United States. Mirroring the comment of the previous Facebook user, she believed that something needed to be done to stop the mass shootings. Salazar’s relative admitted, “[My family are] unable to comprehend the level of violence.”
Pimentel added to Buzzfeed, “We need, like, some type of change [to the gun laws]. So we ensure that this doesn’t happen to another kid, that there’s not another Keyla, that there’s not another family that has to go through this. I don’t wish this on anybody. It’s a really painful situation.”
A few days on from Salazar’s tragic death, her funeral took place at a San Jose church in August 2019. Around 200 people attended the service, paying their respects to the fallen teenager. She was laid to rest inside a white coffin, which was adorned with countless handwritten messages.
Prior to the church service, Salazar’s family released an emotional message to the press, hailing the youngster one more time. It read, “[She] conquered everyone’s heart. Her intelligence, her strength [and] her tenacity motivated everyone to move forward. She was a happy and resilient girl.” But that wasn’t all, though.
The family statement added, “[Salazar] never gave up and continued to strive to achieve her academic goals. She was a girl who loved science and technology, creating ingenious videos [and] making everyone laugh.” As Salazar was finally laid to rest, shooter Legan’s relatives then shared a message of their own to the public.
For their part, Legan’s family offered some heartfelt words to the shooting victims’ families. The message read, “To the families of Stephen Romero, Keyla Salazar, Trevor Irby and to the injured that survived this tragedy, we cannot begin to describe our despair at his actions. We want to express our deepest and sincerest apologies for the loss and pain that he has caused.”