Deputy District Attorney Adam Flores grew up in South Santa Clara County and joined the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office in 2012. He currently works in the Community Prosecution Unit of the District Attorney’s Office and serves as the Chair of the South County Youth Task Force where he creates collaborations between government organizations, schools, and community-based organizations to prevent juvenile crime in the South Santa Clara County community. Flores was the lead of operations at the Family Assistance Center, a multi-agency victim assistance center, which operated immediately following the shooting, from July 29, 2019 to August 9, 2019.
I was driving home. My wife and I were visiting her parents and our phones started getting a lot of text messages. She checked our phones and saw that the Garlic Festival shooting had happened. We came home and watched everything on the news. It was very surreal to think, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this is happening.” Because I’m the South County Community Prosecutor, I contacted some of the on-call DAs to see if they needed assistance.
My role entered the morning of July 29, 2019. I received a call at about 7:15 from Assistant District Attorney, James Gibbons-Shapiro who said that the District Attorney’s Office was going to be starting what’s called the Family Assistance Center, but it needed a location. I said, “OK. Give me ten minutes. I’ll call you back.”
Two members of the Victim Services Unit were familiar with FACs, but I had never heard of what an FAC was. I thought, “Well, okay, we’re going to do this. Let’s do this.” I didn’t have any knowledge about what this was, but we were going to do it because it needed to get done.
I called Dr. Flores, no relation. She’s the Superintendent of the Gilroy Unified School District. I said, “Dr. Flores, we’re the District Attorney’s Office. We’re going to be establishing a Family Assistance Center. The focus is a center that essentially serves the victims of the shooting.” Unhesitatingly, just so quickly, she said, “Rucker Elementary is the school. We can have it available.”
After I got ready, I went to the Gilroy Police Department. I sat in on the media briefing that was going on. Shortly after, Dr. Flores had made it such that I could go to Rucker and meet with the principal to check out the place.
[What were you looking for in a space?]
I didn’t know at the time. [He laughs a little, as if to himself] But I knew we needed a place. The folks who would know - a supervisor from the Victim Services Unit, an FBI Victim Specialist, County Behavioral Health, Red Cross- they would be there to tour the school, to make sure this would be an appropriate location. The principal welcomed us, showed us the entire location, and all the partners said, “Yes, this would be great for an FAC.”
That was about midday-esque, 12:30-ish, on July 29th. From that point until about five o’clock, we transformed the school into an FAC. It happened very quickly. There were so many people there transforming the school into this place that was going to help victims of the Garlic Festival shooting. The principal even was hand-making signs, putting them up on rooms.
Rooms were going to act as counseling places, investigation rooms, the nurse’s office was going to assess physical trauma. The library was transformed into an area where there was victim intake and assessment. There was Santa Clara County Behavioral Health. Red Cross volunteers did mental health, had a nurse, and also provided food for the first week to the people working at the FAC, also, if desired, to victims who were there for long periods of time, and of course the FBI Victim Services Division. The FBI started to use a host of classrooms where they were going to be doing their operations and getting ready to accept personal effects, personal property that was left behind in the chaos of the shooting, and bring that over to the Multi-Purpose Room of Rucker. By five o’clock, we opened the doors to serve victims.
As you start to see it come alive, it takes more form. I’ve learned through this process that a Family Assistance Center is established within twenty-four to forty-eight hours of a mass shooting. An FAC is essentially a place where victims can receive wraparound services- counseling when they’re in a current state of crisis or they can apply for California Victim Compensation Board benefits.
A victim of a shooting is broadly defined. It was anybody who was there, whether you saw the shooting or not. It also included immediate family members or close family members of someone who was there. Those are all considered victims and welcomed and encouraged to come to the Family Assistance Center.
That’s the idea. You come to the Family Assistance Center and you’re connected with all these services based on whatever you’re seeking and they try to be all-encompassing. Everything from your counseling, to your physical trauma, to lost wages and medical expenses, to property.
Victims would be welcomed at our greeter table, a very quick assessment—“Hey, what can we do to help you?”—to get a sense of what they needed. Often they were taken to the library, which had been transformed into a victim intake area. Our Victim Advocates would do an assessment of what the needs were of that particular person and try to assess how we could best help them. When something happens, Victim Advocates from other DA Offices can help and respond to that county. There were Victim Advocates outside of Santa Clara County, from San Mateo, Monterey, on-call from San Francisco. Two support dogs came too. Who doesn’t love support dogs?
The FBI and the FBI Victim Services Division came in to help with the investigation. They are specialists in working with victims and they also focused on property return. In the chaos of the shooting, people were fleeing for their lives. Anything you could imagine that people would drop—from your flip flops to kids' shoes, because it was right next to the kids' play area, to bikes, to strollers, to hats, to wallets—anything you could imagine, just left. The crime scene was extremely large. We’re talking about the Gilroy Garlic Festival, which is acres. After everybody fled, they locked down the scene. It’s a crime scene and everything stays there. The property was not leaving because it was a combination of property and evidence. Part of FBI Victim Services’ job is to recover that property, document it, and then make it in such a fashion that it can be returned to an owner that's identified.
When someone comes in and says, “I was there,” they would provide a description as detailed as possible, location as detailed as possible, and then the Victim Specialist with the FBI would go and retrieve the property and provide it to them. It's not just, “Here's your property, have a nice day.” There is a possibility that being reunited with your property re-triggers the memories associated with what had just happened. It's a process taken very seriously, and there's a lot of care. A victim would come in to seek their property. They would fill out paperwork and then they give it to the Victim Specialist. He or she would go and try and get the property. The victim would then be taken to another room, a private room if they requested, and be given back the property. The Victim Advocates are trained in how to work with victims who are suffering from a traumatic event.
Some of the FBI Victim Specialists actually got rotated out and sent to another area because there were also two shootings that happened that week. That was very much on their mind as well. Unfortunately they are specialists now in these mass shootings. This was not the first time they had done this. They have a lot of experience.
The Community Prosecution Unit took on the role of overseeing the operations of the FAC. I was lead of the operations because this is South County and I was the Community Prosecutor assigned to this area. I helped to oversee the operations, assisting each agency, making sure everything was going okay for them. As the lead, there needs to be some kind of help and guidance. The challenge was making sure that the team took care of themselves because they are interacting with victims who are suffering from trauma, and so they themselves are now suffering from secondary trauma. Making sure they take care of themselves, so they can help, and fostering that culture was very important.
You could divide the memories into two thoughts. Walking through the Family Assistance Center and seeing various victims receive services, being helped, whether it’s someone just walking the grounds, needing a quiet place, to someone sitting at one of the tables and filling out an application with the dog there. That sense they were there and they were receiving help is very rewarding and positive to see. We’re helping these people, giving them an opportunity to receive these services because otherwise would they have? I don’t know. Then there are the thoughts of working with my colleagues and the partners. You thrive off of working with your colleagues and knowing that you’re working through it together. It reaffirmed what I already knew, that I’m doing what I should be doing, public service.
We were able to use the school for about a week because then the school needed to transition back to being a school. We wanted to respect that part of the healing process, getting back to the normal business of life and part of that is children going to school. We had to transfer from the Rucker FAC to another location.
You can see how that would be a challenging endeavor because you still have the whole “Ranch Side” of property to return. It's only been a week and people are still suffering and still are needing services. We needed to stay open to provide that service, also wanted to get back the Ranch Side property. So all the partners on Friday, August 2nd, went and toured Wheeler Auditorium, Wheeler Gymnasium, the library, and City Hall Annex. They’re all right there like a horseshoe. Each one of those buildings fit the need of each of the agencies.
Monday the 5th was that transition day. The library Reading Room B served as our general admin room where we had meetings. The Community Room served as the victim intake room, much like the library in the Rucker location. The Wheeler Gym served where the property was held and there were rooms where victims could be reunified with their property. We also incorporated vehicle reunification. The week before the Emergency Operations Center had been facilitating the vehicle re-unification process at Antonio Del Bueno Elementary. They moved vehicle reunification to the library and we incorporated that service into the FAC.
There was the Old City Hall Annex which hadn’t been used in like ten years. That, eventually, was going to be where Red Cross and County Behavioral Health were. I think it was also the old police department. It had an old jail cell. It hadn’t been vacuumed. It’s like you had been living in an apartment for a really long time, you left, and you just said, “Hey, see you later.” That’s how it was. It was dirty, like it hadn’t been used, but the space was perfect for what was needed. It had the rooms, the entryway. The County Behavioral Health folks and the Red Cross transformed it into a very welcoming space to support victims. It had a waiting room. It had individual rooms that were decorated. The carpet was donated. They got paintings and hung them up, nice furnishings that really made it welcoming. One of the behavioral folks told me that there was no air conditioning in the old City Hall Annex. I was like, “Oh gosh, it’s August in Gilroy.” It’s not like you could just open a window and it’s going to make the place cool. They were able to bring in portable air conditioners to set up.
We served over 700 victims over the two weeks, and that doesn’t include the amount of victims who came in and just wanted property. We filed over 500 California Victim Compensation Board applications over the two weeks.
We still continue to receive victims and help victims. Even just yesterday, [October, 29, 2019], one of the Victim Advocates said they had spoken with a victim. I can’t recall if that was someone who was checking in or a new one. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was a new victim that was now seeking some kind of help. You learn that the trauma doesn’t go away for these victims. People may not realize initially how traumatic it was, and it may take time. That’s something I’ve learned through my experience and learning about mass shooting incidents and what occurs after. I did not know about these important services until learning it on the job.
It shows how strong the community is and how powerful that is when people really seek to help others and come together. Then you step back and you look at the tone and tenor of how people were really desiring to support one another, all the fundraisers, and it re-affirms something I already knew about the community. Gilroy is a strong community, a close community. Same thing about South County. It’s separate from the rest of the county, kind of its own little area, and so, it is a tight-knit area. Santa Clara County rallied behind Gilroy as well. All these people came together within hours of this horrific event. You look at the agencies that were on the scene: the FBI, Behavioral Health, our office, local governments, the city, the library, the school district, and all the people that work for those agencies coming together.
I constantly describe it as an absolute collaboration. There’s a large, invaluable element of selflessness. There were so many people coming together. I never had a doubt that we were going to it, as we were doing it. There was never a doubt. There were always so many people who wanted to help. So much collaboration, so much selflessness by so many different people. From the moment I called Dr. Flores [he snaps his fingers], just like that, all the people who made everything happen at every step of the way just absolute selflessness, and collaboration, and dedication of service.
Now that the FAC has closed, Deputy District Attorney Flores and the Santa Clara County DA’s Office are establishing a Resiliency Center in Gilroy, a permanent location where victims can receive services and resources. The Gilroy Strong Resiliency Center opened Jan. 28, 2019, the six-month anniversary of the shooting.