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6-Year-Old Boy Is Among Those Killed At Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting


It is hard to hear about violence against children and even harder to talk of it. You hear that in the voice of Scot Smithee, police chief of Gilroy, Calif., where the victims in a mass shooting were as young as 6.


SCOT SMITHEE: Any time a life is lost, it's a tragedy, but when it's young people, it's even worse. And, you know, it's just - it's very difficult.

INSKEEP: Police chief in Gilroy, Calif. NPR's Leila Fadel has been on the ground in Gilroy and is on the line. Leila, good morning.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What have you been seeing?

FADEL: Well, last night, I attended a vigil, and people gathered together in the hundreds to share in their shock, their pain, but also share in each other's strength in the face of such a tragedy. Leaders and community members vowed not to allow their town and this festival to be defined by this violence. You know, the Gilroy Garlic Festival has been going on for some four decades. Most people in Gilroy volunteer. They attend. And a lot of the survivors I spoke to who ran when they heard bullets were young, like the people killed.

So take a listen to Brittany Mendoza, a 16-year-old from Gilroy High, who was at the festival when the shooting started.

BRITTANY MENDOZA: While it happened, I was kind of, like, trying to laugh it off. Like, oh, you know, we're safe. But as soon as I got in the car, it started hitting me, and then we started cracking a little. And that's when I got in shock.

FADEL: Now, Mendoza survived, but others weren't so lucky. She said she was there with her sister and her dad to mourn the lives of those that were killed and be with her community.

INSKEEP: We've referred a couple of times to the youth of those who were killed. What is known about some of them?

FADEL: Yeah. I mean, they were young. Trevor Irby of Romulus, N.Y., 25. He recently moved to California. His alma mater, Keuka College, posted about his killing on Facebook. A 13-year-old girl named Keyla Salazar from San Jose, Calif., and a little boy, just 6-years-old, named Stephen Romero. We've seen his smiling picture circulated, and he was killed.

INSKEEP: And a number of people wounded as well, of course.

FADEL: Yeah.

INSKEEP: And then there is the single person - and it is a single person - right? - so far, that is held responsible for this?

FADEL: Well, at this point the police had been looking and are looking for a second person that the witnesses identified, but they're not sure if anybody else was involved, if this person even exists.

INSKEEP: OK, so one person, and what is said about the one person?

FADEL: You know, his name is something people don't want to talk about. They don't want to mention him. They don't want to give him a platform. But the police did identify him. He's a 19-year-old originally from Gilroy. He bought that assault-style rifle legally in Nevada on July 9, where gun laws are less restrictive. And he cut through the fence and entered the festival on Sunday, where he started shooting and killing people in his own hometown.

And at this point FBI doesn't know motive. Police say they don't know motive. There's a lot of speculation about an Instagram post that was attributed to the gunman that references a 19th century white power manifesto, but authorities don't know if this account was the gunman, and they don't know if this was a random act of violence or driven by a specific ideology.

INSKEEP: Leila, what thoughts occur to you as you cover this mass shooting, having covered a number of them before, including the nation's worst shooting in Las Vegas? And you hear some of these phrases, which are the appropriate things to say, but people say them again and again, that this is a tragedy, but we'll be strong, we'll get beyond it, and the other things that people have to say.

FADEL: Yeah, I think it's - there is this horrible routine almost to the way that mass shootings now unfold. And most people were insisting this cannot be normal. This cannot become normal.

INSKEEP: And yet in a way it has. Leila, thanks so much.

FADEL: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Leila Fadel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.