GILROY, California — Before a 19-year-old gunman opened fire on a famed garlic festival in his California hometown, he urged his Instagram followers to read a 19th century book popular with white supremacists on extremist websites, but his motives for killing two children and another young man were still a mystery Monday.
Santino William Legan posted the caption about the book “Might is Right” with a photo of Smokey the Bear in front of a “fire danger” sign. He posted another photo from the Gilroy Garlic Festival minutes before he shot into the crowd Sunday with an “AK-47-type” weapon, killing a 6-year-old boy, a 13-year-old girl and a recent college graduate.
Under it, he wrote: “Ayyy garlic festival time” and “Come get wasted on overpriced” items. Legan’s since-deleted Instagram account says he is Italian and Iranian.
The 1890 work “Might is Right” also called “The Survival of the Fittest,” is filled with misogynist and anti-Semitic rhetoric. It is often cited by neo-Nazis and white supremacists on extremist sites.
Legan also posted slurs against mixed-race people, and made misogynistic comments about “hordes” of Silicon Valley workers “overcrowding” towns, according to NBC News.
The postings are among the first details that have emerged about Legan since the shooting injured 12 others and sent people running and diving under tables. Police patrolling the event responded within a minute and killed Legan as he turned the weapon on them.
He legally purchased the gun this month in Nevada, where his last address is listed. He would have been barred from buying it in California, which restricts firearms purchases to people over 21. In Nevada, the limit is 18.
Legan grew up less than a mile from the park where the city known as the “Garlic Capital of the World” has held its three-day festival for four decades, attracting more than 100,000 people with music, food booths and cooking classes.
Authorities were searching for clues as to what caused the son of a prominent local family to go on such a rampage. His father was a competitive runner and coach, a brother was an accomplished young boxer and his grandfather had been a supervisor in Santa Clara County.
Police searched the two-story Legan family home and a dusty car parked out front, leaving with paper bags. Authorities also searched an apartment they believed Legan used this month in remote northern Nevada. Officials didn’t say what they found or were looking for in either place.
“The descriptions that have been given to me, it appeared as though it (the shooting) was random. But I think we’re too early in the investigation to say that definitively,” Smithee said.
A law enforcement official said investigators believe the gunman used a WASR-10, a variant of an AK-47, that he bought from Big Mikes Gun and Ammo in Nevada earlier this month. The official was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Big Mike’s Guns and Ammo, which appears to be a home-based internet gun shop in Fallon, posted on its Facebook page that “we are heartbroken this could ever happen” and that Legan “was acting happy and showed no reasons for concern” when the store owner met him.
Police had just completed training in how to respond to an active shooter. While they had prepared for the worst, they never expected to put their skills to use in Gilroy, a city of about 50,000 about 80 miles (176 kilometers) southeast of San Francisco known for the pungent smell of the prize flowering crop grown in the surrounding fields — garlic.
The city had put in place security for the festival, one of the largest food fairs in the country. It required people to pass through metal detectors and have their bags searched. Police, paramedics and firefighters were stationed throughout the event.
But Legan didn’t go through the front entrance. He cut through a fence that borders a parking lot next to a creek, Smithee said. Some witnesses reported a second suspect, and a manhunt stretched into Monday, but it was unclear whether that person was armed or just helped in some way.
Smithee praised officers for stopping Legan with their handguns in a small area without injuring anyone else.
“It could’ve gotten so much worse, so fast,” he said.
The gunfire sent people in sunhats and flip-flops running away screaming and crying in terror. Some dove for cover under the decorated food booth tables. Others crawled under a concert stage, where a local band had started playing its last song.
The youngest victim, Stephen Romero, described by his grandmother as a kind, happy and playful kid, had just celebrated his sixth birthday in June at Legoland in Southern California.
“My son had his whole life to live and he was only six,” his father, Alberto Romero, told San Francisco Bay Area news station KNTV after the shooting. “That’s all I can say.”
Also killed was a 13-year-old girl, whose name was not released, and Trevor Irby, a biology major who graduated in 2017 from Keuka College in upstate New York.
The wounded were taken to multiple hospitals. Their conditions ranged from fair to critical, with some undergoing surgery. At least five have been released.
Trevor Towner said his sister was at the festival selling garlic and habanero honey for her business, the Honey Ladies, when she saw a man with a gun climb over the fence. She yelled at him “no, you can’t do that!”
The gunman turned to her and her husband and opened fire. She was shot in the leg and her husband was shot three times, while a 10-year-old girl dragged their 3-year-old son under a table, Towner wrote on a fundraising page he set up for his sister.
Legan then approached the couple as they lay motionless on the ground and asked “are you alright?” They didn’t move, fearing he would finish them off, Towner wrote.
He then turned and shot the 6-year-old boy, the page says. Towner said his sister underwent surgery and was expected to have long-term nerve damage, while her husband faces many surgeries.
The band TinMan was starting an encore Sunday when the shooting started. Singer Jack van Breen said he saw a man wearing a green shirt and grayish handkerchief around his neck fire into the food area.
Van Breen, from nearby Santa Clara, said he heard someone shout: “Why are you doing this?” The reply: “Because I’m really angry.”
Jan Dickson, a neighbor across the street from the Legan family home, described them as “a nice, normal family.” She said Santino Legan had not lived there for at least a year.
“How do you cope with this? They have to deal with the fact that their son did this terrible thing and that he died,” Dickson said.
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