Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting: San Jose councilman fled amid gunshots

In the hours after a shooting rampage Sunday at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, South Bay lawmakers responded with an outpouring of grief and support to the neighboring city — and one San Jose councilmember described the harrowing experience of rushing for cover amid the gunshots.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, three people are dead and 15 are injured after at least one gunman opened fire on the crowd gathered at the festival. It wasn’t immediately clear if the gunman acted alone. KPIX 5 reported that one suspected gunman was among those killed.

San Jose Councilmember Sergio Jimenez was there when shots rang out. He told San José Spotlight late Sunday that his family — which included his wife, two kids, nieces and nephews — fled for cover near the food vendors after hearing what sounded like loud popping sounds.

“All of a sudden as we were walking, we heard five or six pops,” Jimenez said in an interview. “It sounded like fireworks, to be honest. We stopped and we’re listening and we look out to the distance, about 200 yards in front of us, and we see people standing around — then all of a sudden you see that they’re running. And we were like, ‘Holy shit — what’s happening?'”

Jimenez and his family ducked out of a back entrance and waited for a friend to pick them up. The entire experience, the councilman said, was surreal — seeing shootings in communities across America and then experiencing one in his own backyard.

“It sounds cliche, but you see this on TV all the time and being there and knowing this happened is surreal,” he added. “It speaks to the possibility and the unfortunate reality that this could happen anywhere. This always happens somewhere else and I’m sure that’s how others in the community feel about it. I pray for the families that were impacted.”

Families are scrambling to locate loved ones, as was the case for Katiuska Pimentel Vargas, an immigrant rights worker from San Jose. While Vargas wasn’t at the festival, she had other family members there — including her 13-year-old niece that she’s still trying to find.

Vargas said she thinks her niece was shot in the back. So far, the family has heard little back from law enforcement officials.

“The police doesn’t want to tell the family, making people wait,” said Vargas. “I called every hospital in the area and no hospital says they have her there.”

The shooting on the last day of the annual festival drew emotional responses from across the valley and even from the White House, with President Donald Trump warning his followers to “be careful and safe.”

“Law Enforcement is at the scene of shootings in Gilroy, California,” Trump tweeted. “Reports are that shooter has not yet been apprehended. Be careful and safe!”

Gov. Gavin Newsom called the shooting “nothing short of horrific” and said his office is monitoring the situation closely.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said the city sent multiple police and fire units to help with emergency response in the wake of the shooting.

Supervisor Dave Cortese said he’s “sickened” by the reports and applauded first responders, while his colleague Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said her “heart aches” for the families that are impacted.

While local officials offered “thoughts and prayers,” many called for action — including tightening gun control laws. Jimenez, who experienced the violence firsthand, said it’s too soon to know how the suspect got ahold of the gun, but said something needs to change.

“This seems to come up every single time one of these events happen and the frustration I have, similar to many residents, is nothing happens. Nothing changes. This doesn’t happen in other countries,” Jimenez said, adding that the current divisive climate in the country only exacerbates the situation.

“I worry about some of the things being said by our president and others in this country are fanning the flames of discontent and hatred,” Jimenez added, “and I don’t know how to solve it. I wish we could push a button and eliminate these things.”

Contact Ramona Giwargis at ramona@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter. Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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