A shooting at the famed Gilroy Garlic Festival on Sunday evening left at least three dead and 16 injured, sending hundreds of terrified visitors running for their lives.
The popular food festival at the “Garlic Capital of the World” was about to close around 5:30 p.m. when gunfire broke out.
A law enforcement source told The Times a gunman, described as a white man, was dead, but it’s unclear whether he was among the three reported fatalities. A second source also confirmed that three were dead.
Authorities said the scene was still active late Sunday night, with dozens of law enforcement officers from agencies around the region swarming the scene.
Witnesses reported hearing multiple rounds fired by a gunman armed with a rifle and dressed in some kind of vest and camouflage fatigues. Officials have not yet said whether there were fatalities, but witnesses said there appeared to be some.
Taylor Pellegrini, 25, said she was sitting on a bench near the food court with her boyfriend and two friends when she heard what sounded like firecrackers. When the pops continued and people started running, she realized they were in danger.
“People were yelling ‘active shooter, active shooter,’ and some people tripped and stayed on the ground so bullets didn’t hit them,” she said. “People were under tables and dropping their phones and whatever they had in their hands.”
Pellegrini, who lives in Hollister, was able to get out quickly because she and her friends were close to the exit. As they walked to the nearby home of a friend, where they’d parked, they saw police officers racing through the streets.
Pellegrini said security seemed weak at the popular three-day festival, which was set to end Sunday. Her bag was checked at the entrance, she said, but one of her friend’s was not.
“I feel really scared,” said Pellegrini, who favors the festival for its rich food and music. “It makes me not want to go anywhere anymore.”
Vivian Zhang, 24, said she was walking toward the exit with two friends when she heard pops and crackles, and then saw abrupt flashes of light. A truck they were standing next to was struck four times; bullets ricocheted off the ground.
That’s when they started running as fast as they could.
“They started putting all of us on the parking shuttles,” said Zhang, an Oakland resident. “To their credit, the volunteers running it were very responsive, they weren’t panicking.”
Everyone seemed disoriented, Zhang said. Parents grabbed their children as police ran into the crowd. “It’s a whole entire group feeling of sheer terror,” said Emily Gifford, Zhang’s 23-year-old friend.
As Zhang was running, she said, she remembered thinking, “I am surviving a mass shooting right now, but I’m not even sure if that will be true in a moment.”
One of Zhang’s friends was at the 2017 Las Vegas music festival where a gunman killed 58 people. She remembers seeing Snapchat posts from the scene. Still, she never thought this could be her reality, especially at a community event in rural California.
“It was getting closer and closer to home,” she said. “And now it happened to us.”
Videos from the scene showed people running and screaming across the festival grounds.
“Please pray everyone. Random shooters started shooting everywhere,” one person tweeted. “One boy is dead so far and others injured. We’re still waiting while they find them.”
There were also several reports on social media about multiple injuries.
“Scariest moments of my life at the Gilroy garlic festival,” one person tweeted. “I hope everyone made it out okay.”
Another witness, Julissa Contreras, told NBC Bay Area that she saw a white man in his early to mid-30s firing a rifle that was “able to shoot three to four shots a second.”
“It was just rapid firing,” she said. “I could see him shooting in just every direction. He wasn’t aiming at anyone specifically. It was just left to right, right to left…. He definitely was prepared for what he was doing.”
Vielka Garrido, 48, was sitting with her friend and 19-year-old daughter, enjoying the band as it played its last song at the festival.
She was filming a live video on Facebook showing everyone how much fun they were having. They were eating seafood and spaghetti, and dancing.
“And then we hear boom, boom, boom,” Garrido said. “We thought it was fireworks, and then when we see the people running — oh, my God, it was terrible.”
The shots felt close to where they were sitting at the front of the stage. Her group started running too, finding refuge in a shipping container where many other festival-goers were hiding.
As she was running, she saw someone performing CPR on a small child and many other people injured.
As of 8:30 p.m., there were no reports of an arrest in the shooting. Police had also not released any information about the shooter.
Founded in 1979, the Gilroy Garlic Festival bills itself as “the world’s greatest summer food festival.” The three-day event, held at Christmas Hill Park in the town southeast of San Jose, is hosted by community volunteers and raises money for local schools, charities and nonprofit organizations.
The festival attracts tens of thousands of people every year to the Santa Clara County town of 58,000.
Gilroy police said on Twitter: “The hearts of Gilroy PD and entire community go out to the victims of today’s shooting at the Garlic Festival. The scene is still active. If you are looking for a loved one, please go to the reunification center at Gavilan College at parking lot B.”
Police set up a witness and family reunification line at (408) 846-0583.
Times staff writers Gale Holland and Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.