GILROY (KPIX 5) — When the gunman began shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival on Sunday, a group of family and friends was gathered nearby–though they now feel lucky to be alive, they tell a harrowing tale of survival.
Events like Sunday’s mass shootings come without warning and people are then thrust into something they can’t possibly be prepared for. That was the case for Gilroy native Justin Bates. He was enjoying the last few minutes of the Garlic Festival by hanging out with relatives and friends by the family’s shaved ice booth.
“I saw him walking up from the fence line,” Bates said of the gunman, “and then after that, I watched him cock his weapon, and then I saw the flashes and heard the shots.”
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Bates and his friends Nick McFarland and Sarah Ordaz were sitting together about 15 to 20 feet away when the gunman opened fire.
“And then I remember watching him start the gun over here and bring it towards us where we were sitting,” Bates said. “And I just remember bullets flying past me as I was running. I remember feeling the heat hit my legs after I got up. And at that point I was pretty sure I was hit. And I knew I had to get them the hell out of there.”
Bates was hit multiple times, but miraculously, the wounds were all grazes, including one that slid right past his chest. McFarland was hit by bullet fragments in his calf and Ordaz was so shocked by the terror that she froze. Bates, who had already started running, turned back, picked Ordaz up and carried her to safety.
“It’s nothing you’d ever want to see ever in your life…ever,” said McFarland. “And the fact that we’ve got…my whole family’s here today and we’re all talking and living…is just absolutely god-given…it’s a blessing.”
Ordaz said that at one point, her uncle began moving to try to tackle the gunman when he began fumbling with an ammunition clip, but he quickly brought the gun up to his face and said, “NO!” and ordered him to run. For some reason, the gunman didn’t shoot.
“I…I…he didn’t get shot…none of my family, none of my family…they got grazed but, like…thank God!” said Ordaz, her voice trembling.
The friends got a ride to a nearby hospital and arrived in minutes, but still had to wait for several hours to be treated as more seriously injured people began pouring in.
On Monday, surrounded by family and friends, they were thankful to have survived. But the scars of trauma are still there and so is a haunting sense of disbelief.
“It’s just…thinking that it could happen right here in our own hometown,” said McFarland.
But they also realize that’s a question for which there may never be a good answer.