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California city tries to figure out mass shooting

By LIA ZHU in Gilroy, California | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-08-01 00:07

People attend a vigil for victims of the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival on July 29, 2019, in Gilroy, California. Three people were killed and at least a dozen wounded yesterday before police officers shot and killed the suspect. [Photo/VCG]

What makes a "normal" young man pick up an assault rifle and go on a killing spree?

Larry Scettrini, a longtime resident of Gilroy, couldn't understand what changed the boy next door 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 in Santa Clara County, told China Daily in his living room.

Meanwhile, another American town was hit by gun violence on Tuesday as a recently fired Walmart employee was charged in the fatal shooting of two men at the store in Southaven, Mississippi.

Martez Tarrell Abram, 39, of Southaven was recently fired from the Walmart after an incident in which he showed a knife to a fellow employee, according to DeSoto County District Attorney John Champion.

Abram is accused of shooting and killing Brandon Gales of Hernando and Anthony Brown of Olive Branch, both Walmart employees.

Champion says Abram remains hospitalized in neighboring Memphis, Tennessee, after he was shot twice by a police officer Tuesday morning outside the store.

In Gilroy, outside Scettrini's house, several media vans have been parked along the street since early Monday, when police were investigating the home of the shooter, 19-year-old Santino William Legan.

On Sunday, at around 5:40 pm, Legan opened fire with an AK-47-style assault rifle at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in a park, about a 30-minute 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 underway to determine a motive. Authorities say that Legan legally purchased the rifle in Nevada on July 9.

"It's a big loss for everybody. I feel bad for the victims and their families," said Scettrini. "I think it will be hard for the family (of Legan) to continue living here. I don't know what they are going to do after that. Hopefully, we can help them adjust or make it easy for them to keep their residence here."

Scettrini said the young man looked "very normal", though he never spoke 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, a city of about 59,000 people 30 miles south of San Jose in Northern California, is known for its garlic industry. Entering its 42nd year, the garlic festival is described by many residents as a "family-friendly" event 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 his first name, told China Daily after retrieving his pickup truck in the park from the prior night's lockdown.

When the shooting started, Ben, a volunteer at the festival, was working in the "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 the outset, Ben said he believed 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 wounded by gunshots. They performed chest compressions on her and transported her out of the area in a golf cart.

Ben and others remained in the park under a lockdown until midnight, when they were bused to a junior college, where their families picked them up.

"I feel it (the shooting) might affect the attendance (of future festivals)," said Ben, who has been volunteering at the festival for 17 years.

"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.

Unlike Ben and other young people in Gilroy who embraced the festival, Legan, the youngest of four sons in his family, appeared to disdain the event.

He posted photographs from the festival on his social media account shortly before the shooting, with the captions: "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 knew him," Rose Barry of St. Mary's Parish told China Daily while helping set up a prayer vigil for shooting victims at the church.

"Like a friend of mine was saying, how did they have four boys, and we don't know this family? All of our kids were involved in community sports and school sports, cheerleading and all that kind of stuff, but not them," said Barry, who has been living in Gilroy since 1987. "We don't know them from that, which is puzzling in such a small town."

She recalled that the last major violence at the festival was a stabbing 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.

Legan's actions have prompted Gilroy residents to face the reality of gun violence.

"Guns like the one the shooter used and many of the shooters have used have no business within 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."

Scettrini said he has always believed that there should be more gun control in the US. "People argue we should have more guns to be safe. I don't buy that. I think we should have fewer guns. Even if you are armed, you are not safe," he said.

"And I don't like the fact that it's too common here in the United States. People say it's terrible, but nobody will make any changes in the laws," said Scettrini. "We are locked up in this gun issue, and no way can we move forward."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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