Dave Davies and his wife Leticia have been working at various festivals throughout California for more than twenty years. Some of his favorites include festivals in Bishop, Lone Pine, Sonora, the Stanford Powwow, and the Gilroy Garlic Festival. In addition to his festival business, he runs another business doing sales and distribution of craft sodas. His wife also has a full-time job. Their eight-year-old son, Paul (sometimes called Pablo), often joins them and has sold his artwork at festivals since he was five.
I make funnel cakes and seafood. I do calamari, shrimp, chicken strips, lemonade slushy, corn dogs, churros, fried zucchini, and onion rings. It’s a big menu, but at Gilroy I just do funnel cakes. To do the kind of menu we do, most food vendors would have five or six people. But my wife and I, we do it ourselves. For two or three people, you have to be speedy. Things have to fly, and you step in and help the other person almost intuitively where needed.
We’ve been to Gilroy for almost thirty years. We used to do a game for kids. It was a lot of fun. This would have been our fourth year making funnel cakes (1). We like the location. I’ve always tried to pick festivals that are in a beautiful area because I want it to be a nice experience for us. Gilroy is a nice town. It’s pleasant driving through the 152 (2) and looking at the mountains as you approach the city.
I come all the way from Orange County where I have a warehouse. It could take a couple of days of preparation. I pull a big 8′ by 16′ trailer. I load up the freezers, then we drive all night to get there. It’s very grueling. The first day is really hard because we haven’t had much sleep. The second day is usually the nicest day where we’ve had some sleep and the booth is all set up. It’s very demanding. Normally, the end of the day could be very busy for us. A lot of people like funnel cakes later in the day after they’ve had some food. A lot of times we get slammed the last few minutes.
Normally, they provide a big mountain of garlic, and my wife and son would go out and buy some T-shirts or get some garlic. We didn’t even know there was a bouncy house down where the shooting occurred. My son might have wanted to go over there. We’ve been doing the Garlic Festival for thirty years. This was the first time that we actually stayed in our booth.
I heard some firecracker-type sounds. I suspected right away that they were gunshots, and really quickly I jumped on top of my wife and son and hit the ground with them. I said, “Get down, get down.” Then we tried to find better hiding places in our booth.
The people in the neighbor’s tent, their kids were crying and making noise. My son was making some noises at first too. I told them, “Be quiet. Don’t say anything.” I wanted everyone to be quiet and concealed as much as possible, in case he would come into the back of our tent.
The shooting was about forty feet down from us. In fact the tent next to us had a bullet hole in it. Behind our tent, they were transporting people who had been shot, even the shooter, after they shot him. We saw different kinds of carnage. Images that were very disturbing for us.
It seemed like they were kind of roughly handling someone. I think that was the shooter. I believe the shooter was kind of thrown on one of those little golf carts and then whisked away. I saw about three or four people that had been shot. There was one lady who was shot in the calf of her leg. I think she was another vendor. Twenty minutes before the shooting, she had popped her head in the back of the booth and was so excited to get a funnel cake. It was jarring to see her so excited and happy to receive her funnel cake, then learn that she was involved with persona injury and severe trauma.
We were in the booth for about seven minutes and, fortunately, the sound of guns stopped. We were still hiding ’cause we didn’t know there might be more gunfire. Somebody instructed us to come out the back and run to the right. There was a big sense of fear. People thought there was a second shooter. Our neighbors jumped in a truck that backs up to their booth. They sell chocolate-dipped ice cream and chocolate-dipped bananas and stuff. They took shelter in the back of their box truck. After that they ran down through the riverbed. Everyone had their own idea of what’s best to do.
We were told to exit and run to the right. It sounded like somebody who knew what they were talking about. We just ran out to the right. There was a big river of people going by. Then Leticia said, “What about the money and stuff?” And my son said, “Leave it behind, we got more important things.”
So we left the wallets, all the cash in the cash register, all the cash that we had saved. Our IDs, our credit cards, our laptop, our cell phones were left behind. We just ran out and then ran to the right. We got to that main entry road, then we turned left. That’s where I saw. . . I believe it was the 25-year-old [Trevor Irby], in the back of a pickup truck. They were doing deep compressions on his chest. A lot of frantic behavior, trying to help people as fast as they could. Ambulances and police cars everywhere. I remember seeing the guy that sold the chocolate-dipped bananas and his crew. I looked at him and gave him a big hug.
We were all walking together out of the park, my son, my wife, and myself. We just kept walking straight. There’s a sense this whole time, that there could be a second shooter. We felt it. We were definitely in questionable territory.
About ten houses down, there were some people having some kind of festivity in the front yard. They knew what was going on. We stopped at their house and several other people stopped at this house also. They gave my son a Gatorade. Eventually, I just collapsed on their front lawn. There were maybe ten or fifteen people from the incident that were hanging out at this house. Nobody knew where to go. We’re all in their front driveway, in their front lawn. They were trying to comfort us.
One of the owners of the house offered to drive us to the elementary school where they were coordinating buses. After about a half an hour of being there, we were put into a bus. This bus was for if you didn’t have anyone else to help you. We went to some other parking lot where the police asked us questions. There was a lot of media there, trying to get interviews.
Eventually, we got back in the bus, and I think we were taken to another elementary school. It was nighttime by then. They had a bunch of food for us, pizza and different things. It was strange, being in the cafeteria. We were sitting on the ground for a while because there weren’t enough chairs. Then we got back in the bus again. We spent the night on a gym court. In the morning when we woke up, it was a beautiful area with trees. We hung out in the different rooms where they had breakfast for us. Eventually we were transported to Christopher Ranch High School. We stayed in the gym there for another two or three days.
It was a strange feeling being put into a completely different scenario from what we’re used to, breaking down and rushing home. Normally, the whole mood of the festival changes when the event is over. It shifts from serving customers to all of a sudden focusing on breaking down your little home you built—your tent and all the nice set-up—and cleaning up everything. It turns into a logistical situation of breaking down the whole tent city that was constructed for the festivities. The whole landscape of the event changes—poles everywhere, boxes, and people pulling up their trucks and vans, working to pack up and get out. A lot of times we’re the last one to get out. Sometimes it could take five or six hours from the time it’s over to the time we pull out. Then we start driving home. We try to make it home anywhere from 8:00 a.m. till noon the next day. All of a sudden, we hit this huge detour.
When we first arrived at Christopher, the principal of the high school invited my son to participate in a basketball training they were doing. My son was shy to get involved, but there was an African-American man there who knew what happened to my son and took special care of him. He would pass the basketball. Eventually, he got my son going back and forth.
My family was not able to talk to me for three days or even know what was going on. They saw all this stuff on the TV. The Red Cross gave me a simple, little cell phone, and that’s when I called my family. One sister in particular, when she heard my voice she couldn’t talk, she was crying, for about a whole minute. It was a huge sense of relief that we were okay.
The Red Cross people were exceptionally compassionate, and friendly, and helpful, always asking, “You need something to eat?” They provided all kinds of drinks and food and moral support. Some of these Red Cross people would even cry with us.
Certain aspects of it were refreshing, like being taken care of by other people. It’s a very pleasant experience to be fed and cared for, provided a place to sleep in beautiful surroundings, to have people interested in us and wanting to hear what we had to say, wanting to comfort us, providing a bed, providing a place to sleep. In a certain sense, it was somewhat of a break from my daily struggles, just to be able to stop and reflect on everything that’s going on. We were very upset about everything, but they were trying to comfort us. That was actually, in many ways, a good experience.
At the gym I was able to connect with the other vendors that went through the shooting experience. It was nice just to be with them, to talk to other people. The question always was: when can we go access the place to get our stuff? Can’t they just let us at least get our wallets and our cell phones? It was difficult to manage without those things. After about three or four days of being at the Christopher Ranch High School, eventually, the FBI arranged us to take a plane back to Orange County without IDs or anything. We left and went back to Orange County with nothing. All our clothes and everything were in the truck.
We took another plane back to San José. The FBI provided tickets for us. My friend, Mark, picked us up at the airport with his van, and then we drove back to Gilroy. We were able to get access to the park and had to go to the tables where the FBI agents could identify who we are. They even helped us to pack out.
The stench was overwhelming. Our neighbors were doing alligator and catfish. All that stuff was left there for ten days, and it was hot, like in the 90s. So, all this fish was next to us. We had ice cream and strawberries in our freezer for ten days. We emptied it into these gray water receptacles. This stuff was really obnoxious. It was a very strong odor. It took us about three hours to pack out with the help of the FBI people. We packed everything up and went to Denny’s with our friend. That was very nice to be sitting down at Denny’s with our friend after all that, our truck and our trailer, packed up and ready to go. Finally, we had our wallets and all our stuff. It took about ten days.
I was planning to go to another fair, so that was another problem. My truck and trailer were not available, so I couldn’t go. I was losing business with my distributing business. Leticia was missing work. I was out of production for a while. I have all kinds of expenses that occur. If I had to estimate, it went into the thousands, about $10,000 that I would normally make just to keep business going.
I found the government fund process for victims to be almost impossible to deal with. You fill out these forms online, and if they don’t like what you say, you don’t get anything. You didn’t get to sit there and explain your situation. I was really disappointed. It’s more for somebody who works full-time for a company. It doesn’t address at all somebody who’s self-employed or who doesn’t have a regular salary. It was just a nightmare. I was angry with the government system. It was ridiculous. It wasn’t on a personal level. Whereas with the other funding, the private fund that was able to help me out, I talked to somebody who asked me questions directly. They could understand what I was going through. I was grateful for those private donations. I really needed it. It was only the private funding that was able to help me out financially.
Leticia’s brother said, “You just need to get out of this business.” He later apologized. He was just trying to be protective. We felt right away that we wanted to go back again. It’s our business and as hard as it is, in a lot of ways we really enjoy it. It’s fun to get in the truck and get away and separate ourselves from all the pressure that my wife has from her job and the pressure I have of driving all around for what I do.
The next fair was the Eastern Sierra Tri-County Fair in Bishop for Labor Day weekend. I did that one by myself to unwind. It is a very peaceful place with a creek, pond, along with a lot of green grass, trees, and ducks next to beautiful views of the Eastern Sierra Mountains. Bishop and the Sierras are so beautiful and so pleasant. It feels safe there. But I noticed when we got into subsequent events, more of a metropolitan-type of environment, we sat for fifteen or twenty minutes and tried to analyze: what would we do if a shooter came. We strategized. We talked about how sometimes it might be more important just to hit the ground and crawl. Just hit the ground and crawl. There’s never any perfect way to handle it, but we strategize anyway. We never used to do that kind of stuff. The busyness of a festival makes it so that you can forget about some of this stuff. You’re working so hard. But when you’re setting up, even when you’re driving to the festival, you’re thinking what it is you’re getting into. You have to deal with a certain amount of fear as you’re going to a festival now, for us at least.
You never forget about the people that died. Stephen Romero was the six-year-old, and Keyla Salazar was our thirteen-year-old, and Trevor Irby, the twenty-five year old young man that did very well in college. It’s burned in your mind about the three victims that died and the people that got shot and injured, two dozen people. You never forget about the lady that got shot in the foot who just asked for a funnel cake a few minutes before it happened. The little six-year-old’s mom got shot through the hand. It became a lot more personalized, just being right there. My heart goes out to them and their families.
You always see stuff on the news. It’s just one news story to another. People a lot of times forget or minimize the previous incident. They have this feeling that it’s okay now because a week went by, when in fact people’s lives are changed permanently. It doesn’t always work on the timescale of the next story. It never ends. Having lived through that ourselves and personally heard the gunshots that were killing people, that leaves an indelible image in your brain. We carry with us things that cause us to cry later. We carry with us those people that were injured and killed.
1 The 2020 Gilroy Garlic Festival, like many others, was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
2 The Pacheco Pass Road is a scenic section of California State Route 152 between Interstate 5 at Santa Nella and US Highway 101 at Gilroy.