Gilroy festival vendors, volunteers allowed to retrieve belongings

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While federal investigators try to unlock a motive behind Sunday’s mass shooting in Gilroy, attendees and vendors work to move on with their lives. One of the first steps in that process is recovering possessions left behind after the sounds of gunfire sent people running for their lives.

A chance meeting while waiting to recover their vehicles produces an outpouring of emotions from two Gilroy Garlic Festival board members.

“We haven’t seen each other or been able to talk to each other. And this is the first time I’ve even cried about this,” said Marah Kuwada, as tears streamed down her cheeks. 

She was one in a group of a half dozen people who went through the slow process of reclaiming their vehicle. It started with a sign-up at Antonio Del Buono Elementary School. Then, a five-mile shuttle carrying up to nine people through a circuitous route to the corner of Miller and West Luchessa Avenues, where they ride past a checkpoint, and into the crime scene.

“We’re trying to shrink that footprint down as quick as we can, to get those vendors that have reasons to be here," said FBI Special Agent-in-Charge John Bennett. "Those people’s personal belongings, we’re trying to get that back to them." 

Hundreds of vehicles and possessions, left behind when alleged shooter Antonio Legan opened fire Sunday, are still in Christmas Hill Park. Many vendors and attendees have been living life without a vehicle since the mass shooting that killed three people.

“Everything’s in our vehicle and now it’s been three days. We couldn’t even get into our own home,” said Roscoe Regalado, a vendor at the festival who had to climb through a window to enter his home.

Recovery time for each vehicle and the associated possessions vary. Sometimes the trek into and back out can take a half-hour or more. The idle time brings back strong emotions for those who witnessed the crime and are still haunted by the loss of life.

“I saw things I shouldn’t have had to see. I felt things I shouldn’t have had to feel,” said vendor Kristen Soseman, as she choked back tears outside the main law enforcement checkpoint. “But I know I was there because I was a grounding space. I know we were there to help people.”

Two women showed appreciation Wednesday for first responders by bringing cookies and promising to reclaim a five-acre space that’s become a crime scene. Meanwhile, others are grateful to be alive, and thankful valued friends are still with them.

“They’re my family. So I feel like I haven’t seen my family in three days after something really, really, intense,” said Kuwada.

The recovery process at the elementary school is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Officials hope to have all the vehicles cleared out by Friday, but say it’s a slow process.