South County finds ways to cope

Shooting changed a community forever

As the 41st annual Garlic Festival was in full swing, Christopher Ranch’s executive vice president, Ken Christopher told the Morgan Hill Times that this year could potentially change the festival forever.

With bigger-name celebrities than ever before, Christopher’s most pressing concern on the festival’s second day was whether there would be enough parking. Christopher said the festival was “the ultimate unifier in a world where there might be a little bit of turmoil.”

But the festival wouldn’t stay untouched by the turmoil of the outside world: One day later, the festival, founded by Christopher’s father and the City of Gilroy, would be in the eye of the latest storm of senseless gun violence.

On the festival’s closing night, a teenage gunman opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle on crowd of people sampling food vendors and enjoying children’s bounce houses. Police say the gunman killed three people—Stephen Romero, Keyla Salazar and Trevor Irby—and wounded 12 others, leaving Gilroy changed forever. 

With the city reeling from the tragedy, community leaders and members sought ways to come together. 

The hashtag #GilroyStrong—and subsequent black-and-white T-shirts—appeared on social media. The catchphrase was the theme of an emotional outdoor vigil and community rally the evening of July 29, attended by more than 1,000 people.

Standing in front of Gilroy City Hall, Mayor Roland Velasco promised Gilroyans that the city would recover. “It may not be tomorrow,” said Velasco, “but we will heal from this.”

Morgan Hill Mayor  Rich Constantine offered his own words of support for Gilroy. “All too often, we hear about these instances, and just recently they touched our border,” Constantine said referring to the shooting at the Morgan Hill Ford Store in June that took two lives. “And now they’ve touched Gilroy; it’s unfortunate that we have to keep hearing about events like this and then have nothing done to mitigate them.”

Constantine said Morgan Hill would continue to support its neighboring city. “We are here for them for anything they may need.”

Another vigil was planned for Thursday, Aug. 1, off Fifth and Monterey streets in downtown Gilroy. This gathering was being planned by the Gilroy Downtown Business Association and Councilmember Fred Tovar. 

Cal-Silk was to begin selling #GilroyStrong merchandise July 30 for $20, promising that the proceeds would go toward the victims’ families.

Morgan Hill Community Engagement Officer Maureen Tobin sent out a list of county services available for those impacted by the shooting. 

Christopher Ranch has been involved in the festival since its inception. Ken Christopher released a statement July 29 on behalf of his family. 

“There are no words to properly express the magnitude of this tragedy. What happened was unthinkable, and our family, much like yours, is still trying to come to terms with last night’s events, wrote Christopher. “In the days to come, our emotions will be scattered across the spectrum, ranging from absolute sorrow to understandable anger. In times like this, it is critical that our community stands together to support one another to shoulder the pain that we are all experiencing in this aftermath.

“An event like this is an attempt to tear people apart, but what it will inevitably do is bring us together, as a fellowship, as a community, as a family. Gilroy is love. Gilroy is strong.”

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