For the first time in the annual Garlic Festival’s 41 years, the ever present danger of a mass shooting prompted the organizers have a security team at the entrance check bags and wand all adult attendees with a metal detector.
But the gunman in Gilroy, California seems to have simply cut a hole in the far side of what the police later described as a “secure fence line.” He raised an assault rifle and needed just a minute to kill three and wound fifteen.
The dead included 6-year-old Stephen Romero. His mother, Barbara Aquirre, was shot in the stomach and leg but managed to call her husband.
“They shot him,” she reportedly told him.
In the ensuing confusion, police said a second suspect might still be at large. What was immediately clear and undeniable was that all the added security and precautions had not not prevented exactly what the organizers hoped to deter.
“Be careful and safe,” President Donald Trump tweeted Sunday night.
Trump had tweeted nothing at all after the mass shooting at another annual event in his own home town on Saturday.
Maybe the one dead and 11 injured in that other event as not a high enough body count to warrant Trump's attention.
Surely he did not ignore the mass shooting at Old Timers Day because it was in Brownsville, a minority, largely ungentrified neighborhood in Brooklyn.
As in Gilroy, the carnage in Brownsville erupted just at the event was wrapping up. Two gunmen opened fire as the crowd was singing “Family Reunion.” That is the traditional closing song at this gathering celebrating those who survived the many dangers of growing up and living in that neighborhood. A 38-year-old man will not be among those who attend next year’s celebration.
Among many Americans who will not reach old-timerhood at all is 3-year-old Sa’Raija Watson of Seutbenville, Ohio. Sa’Raija was in a car driven by her mother on September 24 when a gunman opened fire on them for no apparent reason. The child was shot in the head. Her mother, Mahogany Luke, was shot in the stomach and leg, just as little Stephen’s mother later was in Gilroy.
Sa’Raija was deemed to be in grave condition and flown by helicopter to a children's hospital 40 miles away in Pittsburgh. The mother was taken to a local facility, but soon after signed herself out against medical advice and made her way to her daughter.
“It was kind of bad,” the mother recalled of her own wounds in an interview with The Daily Beast. “I still stood by her side.”
Sa’Raija lay in a mass of tubes and monitor wires.
“I couldn’t hold her,” the mother remembered. “She had too much stuff attached to her.”
The child survived, but went from speaking in full sentences to being unable to speak at all. She also could no longer walk; a toddler unable to toddle.
“She was like a new baby,” the mother told The Daily Beast.
Sa’Raija still brightened when she saw her mother. And after a while she was doing something else.
“She would smile,” the mother reported.
In January, the doctors decided Sa’Raija could go home.
“To me, it seems like she was getting better,” the mother later said of the months that followed. “She was moving her arms a little bit more, moving her legs a little bit more.”
She could still not talk, but she would smile and delight in watching the Trolls on television. She awoke the household each morning with sounds announcing that she was ready for a new day.
On the morning of June 22, Luke slept late and wondered why Sa’Raija had not roused her as usual. The mother went into her daughter's room.
“She was not breathing,” Luke recalled.
Nine months after being shot, months during which she turned 3-years-old, Sa’Raija was pronounced dead.
By then, 18-year-old Brylee West had been charged with the shooting. He had not long before been released from prison after serving four years for a shooting committed when he was 14. He pleaded not guilty in this new case.
As the charge in Sa’Raija’s case threatened to go from attempted murder to murder, West’s attorneys sought an autopsy in addition to the one requested by the Jefferson County prosecutor’s office. The coroner has in the meantime refused to release the body to the mother, who has been forced to put any funeral plans on hold for more than a month. The prosecutor, Jane Hanlin, did not respond to a query from The Daily Beast regarding when Luke might get her daughter back to bury.
During the long wait, Luke has noted news reports of one young child after another who had also fallen victim to gunfire.
On July 2, Ivory West, age 2, of Spring, Texas was fatally shot in a robbery.
July 6, Alberto Rios Navarrette, age 5, of Winston-Salem, North Carolina was killed in a drive-by.
July 13, Brooklyn Harris, age 3, of Milwaukee was killed in a road rage incident.
On July 18, Karon Brown, age 11, of Washington, D.C., was killed by a stray round.
On July 21, Eddie Hill, age 10, of North Saint Louis, Missouri was also killed by a stay round.
Kid after kid was being killed in a country that seemed barely to notice beyond the immediate community of the latest death.
“It's crazy how many kids are shot and killed,” Luke told the Daily Beast early last week. “It’s heartbreaking.”
And then, on Sunday, 6-year-old Stephen Romero was killed in the mass shooting in Gilroy along with a 13-year-old girl and a man in his 20s. This latest carnage despite a secure fence line and a big search and metal detectors and cops and every possible protection save perhaps meaningful gun control that might have kept an assault rifle out of the hands of a “really angry” 19-year-old.
Luke knew from her own experience that Stephen’s mother would have barely noticed the wounds to her stomach and leg.
“I was never really worried about myself,” Luke told The Daily Beast on Monday. “When you’re a parent, you don’t really think about yourself.”
An hour later, our president stood in the Rose Garden at the White House and spoke of the mass shooting in Gilroy.
“We reaffirm our national will to answer violence with the courage, determination, and resolve of one American family,” Trump declared. “We will continue to work together as communities and as citizens to stop evil, prevent violence, and protect the safety of all Americans.”
Trump had still not said a word about the mass shooting in his hometown or about the deaths of one young child after another after another.