'Every one of us...is now a survivor:' Gilroy comes together after festival shooting

Barely 24 hours after Gilroy's mass shooting, the community came together in a vigil at City Hall. 

Hundreds of people gathered Monday evening, to light candles and listen to a variety of speakers.

It was both mournful and defiant, as residents refused to let the tragedy define their town. 

"The Gilroy Garlic Festival is our annual showcase, " said Gilroy City Council member Peter Leroe-Munoz. "It shows the world and ourselves the best that we can be."

Leroe-Munoz and others insisted the best of Gilroy was on full display in the face of  sudden violence. 
Stories were shared, of people helping each other, and hiding each other, in the face of gunfire. 

"I recall the people I was sheltering with in our tent," said survivor Kelly Ramirez, "And every one of us in this community is now a survivor."  

When the crowd was asked, 'how many were at the festival this weekend?' almost every hand went up.   
Neighboring Morgan Hill is also reeling from gun violence, after a man killed two co-workers, then himself at a car dealership last month. 

"Things like that don't happen in Gilroy, they don't happen in Morgan Hill, but they do happen," said Morgan Hill City Council member Rene Spring.

The state senator representing the area expressed frustration with federal gun laws.

The alleged Gilroy gunman was able to buy an assault-style weapon in Nevada, that is banned for sale in California.    

"As Governor Newsom said today, he has yet to meet a hunter who needs an AK-47," said Sen. Bill Monning, a Democrat from Carmel. "We have to keep pushing, because how many more of these is it going to take, how many more?"

Other elected officials also shared supportive sentiments.  

"Your pain is not alone," said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, "Because your pain is felt by families throughout our Bay Area and certainly in San Jose."

The emotional words of a Gilroy police sergeant drew the loudest applause of the night. 

"I was one of the first responders," said Sgt. Jason Smith, "And we hurt for all of you, our heart is broken." 

Smith said he drove by the vigil, not planning to speak, but was touched by the size of the crowd, and felt compelled to voice his appreciation. 

"We are so proud to serve this community and we will continue to serve this community because we love you, we love you guys," said Smith, with someone shouting back from the audience, "we love you too." 

The vigil was organized by David Almeida, one of the volunteers at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, which raises money for community non-profits, including churches and sports teams. 

Since its inception in 1979, the festival has generated almost $12 million for local charities. 

What emerged from the vigil, besides grief, was overwhelming community pride and determination to heal. 

"We cannot let the bastard who did this tear us down," said Gilroy Mayor Roland Velasco, to loud cheers.  

During a 30-second moment of silence for the three young victims, the crowd held their candles high. 

Some residents already wear shirts imprinted with the words, "Gilroy Strong."

Councilman Leroe-Munoz implored people to not only wear the words, but speak them, believe them, and live them. 

"We are... Gilroy strong," he shouted from the podium, leading a chant. 

There will be another event Thursday evening, Aug. 1 at 6 p.m., on Monterey Street in downtown Gilroy. 

The street was scheduled to be closed for a summer concert series, but will instead become an Evening of Remembrance for the public.