FBI opens domestic terrorism investigation into Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting

The FBI has opened a domestic terrorism investigation into the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting in Gilroy, California, which left three people dead and more than a dozen injured last month, officials announced Tuesday.

John Bennett, the FBI’s agent in charge in San Francisco, said the agency took over the case from the Gilroy Police Department to launch a “full, predicated FBI investigation” after discovering the potential existence of an ideological motive.

“We have not made a final investigative conclusion into the motive of the shooter. However, we have uncovered evidence ... that the shooter was exploring violent ideologies,” Bennett said Monday during a news conference.

Bennett said the shooter, 19-year-old Santino William Legan, had a “target list” that included “religious institutions, federal buildings, courthouses, political organizations from both major political parties, and the Gilroy Garlic Festival.”

“We have seen a fractured ideology,” he said. “The shooter appeared to have an interest in varying, competing violent ideologies.”

A spokeswoman for the FBI declined to provide additional details about the groups targeted by the shooter in an effort to “protect their privacy and safety.”

Officials say they believe Santino cut through a fence to gain access to the food festival on July 28 before opening fire on attendees, killing two children ― a 6-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl ― as well as a man in his 20s. 

The shooter, who wore a bullet-resistant vest, fired approximately 39 rounds into the crowd using an AK-47-style rifle during the attack, Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee said Tuesday.

Celebs react to death of 6-year-old in Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting
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Celebs react to death of 6-year-old in Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting
This is Stephen Luciano Romero. He was 6 years old. Last night, he was shot and killed when a gunman opened fire during the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival in Northern California. At least two others were killed, and 15 people were wounded. The festival remains an active crime scene, and a manhunt remains underway for a potential second suspect. This is the 246th mass shooting in the US THIS YEAR. I am sickened by this, we all should be. This is unacceptable. Don’t be sad. Get angry. Elect officials at the local, state and national level who care about common sense gun reform and are brave enough to do something about it. 💔 #gilroygarlicfestival #gilroyshooting #news #rip
Stephen Luciano Romero was shot and killed last night at the #gilroygarlicfestival in Northern California. 2 others were killed and 15 more injured. My heart is broken for their families. Stop gun violence now. When lawmakers allow gun lobbyists to write our gun laws we are all unsafe. Elect leaders at the local, state, and federal levels who will pass common sense guns laws. Join @everytown @momsdemand Text ACT to 644-33. #gilroyshooting #everytown #momsdemandaction #studentsdemandaction
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A six year old boy ...💔Easy access to guns is killing Americans every day. https://t.co/HJeZIT9BjS
Stephen Luciano Romero was shot and killed last night at the #gilroygarlicfestival in Northern California. 2 others… https://t.co/jmZuSwDXrc
We're learning more about the other victims of the #gilroyshooting as well as the gun that was used - an AK-47 whic… https://t.co/dE6x73yxXA
A 6 year old boy is dead Stephen Romero ..my heart breaks for his family. there are not enough prayers that will b… https://t.co/QAn0qXeGUS
6-year-old Stephen Romero was at the Gilroy Garlic Festival with his mom and grandma. His precious life is gone. M… https://t.co/s0PrgtvnIJ
This is horrendous. This precious 6-year-old boy was one of the victims killed at the Gilroy Garlic Festival yester… https://t.co/Hi4PvMGw6a
The death of 6 year-old #StephenRomero SHOULD evoke compassionate action and moral shame. But will it? If we can… https://t.co/OJzeGvE5lO
That’s 6 year old Stephen Romero. Shot and killed last night in the mass shooting in Gilroy, California. He was jus… https://t.co/AnL6sxFYwf
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The Santa Clara County medical examiner said Friday that the shooter died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, contradicting initial police reports that officers fatally shot him soon after arriving on the scene.

The gunman was hit multiple times by police gunfire, though the medical examiner has not yet determined exactly where and how many rounds hit him, Smithee said.

Santino’s family said in a statement Tuesday that they are “deeply shocked and horrified” by his actions and denounced the “hateful thoughts and ideologies” that inspired the shooting.

“We want to express our deepest and sincerest apologies for the loss and pain that he has caused,” they wrote in the statement. “To the City of Gilroy and to everyone affected, we are tremendously sorry. No words can begin to express this.”

Santino did not leave behind a manifesto, officials said Monday. Investigators are working to determine a possible motive behind the shooting and have not ruled out white supremacy, Bennett said.

Days after the Gilroy shooting, a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people and injuring two dozen others. Police arrested him and discovered a manifesto he had written that railed against a so-called “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” That shooting is also being investigated as a domestic terrorism case, officials said Sunday.

To the surprise of many Americans, there is no federal charge that broadly outlaws acts of domestic terrorism, though plenty of former counterterrorism officials and a group of FBI agents say there should be. 

The lack of a federal terrorism statute applicable to non-Muslim shooters has typically made federal officials hesitant to call domestic terrorists what they are, even when the suspects are dead. 

But amid a national debate over the disparate treatment of white supremacist terrorists and terrorists motivated by Islamic extremism ― as well as critiques of the FBI’s handling of the threat of domestic terrorism ― federal officials have recently become less cautious about labeling acts of domestic terrorism as such.

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