Mass Shooting at Garlic Festival in Northern California: 6-Year-Old Boy Among 3 Killed, and at Least 12 Wounded


July 29, 2019

One shooter dead, and police are still searching for a possible second suspect hours later.



GILROY — At least four people were dead, including a suspect, and 12 people injured after a gunman cut through a security fence and opened fire on a crowd Sunday evening near the end of the Gilroy Garlic Festival, sending panicked festival goers running for their lives.

Late Sunday night police were still searching for a potential accomplice, but the shooter was killed in less than a minute, Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee said Sunday night.

Police responded to the festival grounds at Christmas Hill Park near Miller Avenue and Uvas Park Drive around 5:40 p.m., toward the end of the third and final day of the world-famous garlic festival.


Among the dead was Stephen Romero, a 6-year-old San Jose boy, whose mother and grandmother were also shot and being treated at Valley Medical Center in San Jose but expected to survive.

“It’s sort of a nightmare you hope to never have to live,” Smithee said.

The shooting began as the festival was winding down, and a band was playing their last act on a festival stage. Shawn Viaggi was working near the stage when he heard loud pops and saw bullets hit the ground.

“I called out, ‘It’s a real gun, let’s get out of here,'” said Viaggi, who hid under the stage with other members of the crew for several minutes before seeing police arrive.

Natalie Martinez, a longtime Gilroy resident, had gone to get food and was separated from her two daughters when the shooting began. “I ran to find the girls … and we basically ran into each other.”

“I thought, we’re open prey. It was awful.”

Wounded mom with dying 6-year-old-son calls husband from Gilroy Garlic Festival: ‘They shot him’ – Read the article


Steven Romero, who celebrated his 6th birthday last month at Legoland, was shot and killed at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California. Alberto Romero


According to Smithee, the suspect or suspects appeared to have crossed a creek that borders a parking lot, cutting a fence to enter the festival.

When a gunman with an assault-style rifle began shooting at the crowd, officers “engaged the suspect in less than a minute,” shooting and killing him, according to Smithee.

“We have one suspect that we know is (dead), and some witnesses reporting there may be a second suspect, although we don’t know if a second suspect was engaged in any shooting, or in a support role,” Smithee said at a news conference after 10 p.m. Sunday, the first official details from authorities hours after the shootings.

Smithee did not give any details on the slain shooter’s identity or possible motive.

He said that police would remain at the festival grounds throughout the night to search for a possible accomplice. The FBI was also assisting in the investigation.


 “I want to express my extreme shock and sadness about what’s happened today,” Gilroy Mayor Roland Velasco said at the press conference. “I would ask for the thoughts and prayers of the community as our Gilroy police officers continue to investigate this tragic and senseless crime.”

Tony Porrovecchio, 57, was walking past the Vineyard Stage, where a crowd gathered, some resting on hay bales, to watch the last performance. Then, he said, he saw a man in green walk toward the crowd.

“At first I thought some idiot was setting off fireworks, but then we saw him,” Porrovecchio said. “Once he locked in on us, I ran.”

Another witness who would only give his name as Daniel said he was sitting near the same performance stage when the shooting started. The crowd began to scatter, he said, and he dropped to the ground and crawled past some picnic tables, making his way to a refrigerated truck where about 20 other people were sheltered.

Two women who had been shot were also hiding in the trailer, and were later taken away by festival staff on a golf cart.

A spokesperson for the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, Joy Alexiou, said six gunshot victims arrived at St. Louise Hospital in Gilroy; two were later transferred to Valley Medical Center. One of the four remaining patients died, and the other three were in fair to serious condition.

Five other gunshot victims were taken to Valley Medical Center by ambulance or helicopter, ranging from fair to critical condition, said Alexiou. Family and friends also said two victims were taken to Stanford Hospital.

Several other people were injured in the scramble to escape the gunshots, Alexiou said, receiving bruises, cuts and similar injuries.

Leslie Andres, 12, was among the gunshot victims being treated at Valley Medical Center. Andres was shot in the leg, according to her cousin, 16-year-old Mark Mendoza.

Mendoza was eating at some picnic tables with his family, including several relatives visiting from Mexico, when the shooting started.

“There were a lot of kids, the shooter was next to a kid’s play area,” said Mendoza, who described the shooter as wearing a tactical vest, camouflage pants and a hat.

The festival, which closed at 6 p.m., was still full of people when the first shots were fired, according to witnesses, who described a chaotic scene with people hiding in coolers and underneath cars.

Evenny Reyes of Gilroy, 13, spent the day at the festival with her friends and some relatives.

“We were just leaving and we saw a guy with a bandana wrapped around his leg because he got shot. And there were people on the ground, crying,” said Reyes. “There was a little kid hurt on the ground. People were throwing tables and cutting fences to get out.”

Reyes said she didn’t run at first, because the gunshots sounded like fireworks. The shooting lasted for what seemed like a few minutes. “It was like the movies — everyone was crying, people were screaming.”

People were running so fast to escape that they were tripping and stumbling, said Natalie Martinez. They stopped to help an elderly woman who had fallen, then got outside the park and were standing in a parking area until police gave them the go-ahead to leave.

Martinez, who lives within walking distance of the festival grounds, finally heard from her husband, Mario Sanchez, who was volunteering at Gourmet Alley and said he was fine. He told her that when those who were working in Gourmet Alley heard the shots, “Everybody dropped, or ran into coolers.”

Martinez was worried about the volunteers whose work shifts come at the festival’s end. “There are crowds of Boy Scouts who show up for cleanup,” she said.

People were evacuated to Gilroy High School and Gavilan College, parking lot B, to reunite with family. Witnesses and people looking to reunite with family can call 408-846-0583.

The Gilroy Unified School District will be providing counseling services for its students, staff and any community members affected by the shooting on Monday between 8 am and 5 pm at Christopher High School.

The shooting occurred as the 41st annual event — one of the nation’s most famous food festivals — was wrapping up its three-day run. Besides drawing food lovers from around the country, the festival serves as Gilroy’s top fund-raiser for the year, with volunteers staffing the event to earn money for their clubs, schools and other nonprofit groups. Since 1979, the festival has raised more than $11.7 million for local nonprofits and schools.

“Our 4,000-plus local volunteers work so hard every year and to see this event end this way is just one of the most tragic and sad things that I’ve ever had to see,” said Brian Bowe, the festival’s executive director. “We feel so upset for those that are impacted — friends, families, neighbors. It’s just a horrible thing to experience.”


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