FBI opens domestic terror probe into Gilroy festival attack, says shooter explored ‘violent ideologies’



FBI personnel pass a ticket booth at the Gilroy Garlic Festival on Monday, July 29, the morning after a gunman killed at least three people at the popular California event. (Noah Berger/AP)

The FBI said Tuesday it had launched a domestic terrorism investigation into the shooting rampage last week at a Gilroy, Calif., food festival, during which a 19-year-old killed three people and injured more than a dozen others.

This determination came after investigators found that the shooter had delved into “violent ideologies” and had compiled a list of possible targets, including the food festival, religious institutions, political organizations, federal buildings and courthouses, said John F. Bennett, special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Francisco office, at a news briefing Tuesday.

The gunfire at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, a popular event that annually draws thousands of visitors, sent tremors through the small city and drew national attention. Among the dead were two children.

Less than a week later, the country was horrified by a pair of mass shootings — first in El Paso, then just hours later in Dayton, Ohio — that unfolded over the weekend, leaving a combined 31 people dead and dozens more injured.

Law enforcement officials in Gilroy said after the July 28 shooting that they did not know what could have motivated the attacker. They said the shooter — Santino William Legan, a 19-year-old from the area — shot and killed himself after exchanging gunfire with police.

Bennett said investigators have not come across any statement on the incident by the shooter, but they did find indications of violent beliefs.

“We have uncovered evidence throughout the course of our investigation that the shooter was exploring violent ideologies,” Bennett said. “We have seen a fractured ideology. The shooter appeared to have an interest in various, competing violent ideologies.”

Bennett did not elaborate on these ideologies. But he said investigators were still exploring the shooter’s digital footprint to determine if he had settled on one particular ideology, whether he was in touch with anyone regarding these beliefs and who, if anyone, may have helped or had advance knowledge of his plans for violence.

The possible target list included religious, governmental and political organizations, Bennett said. He declined to identify the specific organizations, but he said the political targets touched on both of the two major political parties.

This announcement about a domestic terrorism probe in California comes amid renewed scrutiny of how the federal government is treating cases of domestic terror and violent ideologues, particularly in the wake of the El Paso attack on Saturday morning.

Authorities believe the suspected El Paso attacker — a 21-year-old who has been charged in the case — is the author of an online statement that denigrated immigrants.

That attack, which killed 22 people, targeted a Walmart popular with people on both sides of border with Mexico. Local prosecutors have filed a capital murder charge in the El Paso case, while federal prosecutors have signaled they intend to seek hate crimes charges.

In Dayton, the shooter — identified as a 24-year-old man — killed nine people and injured more in an area with bars and clubs before police shot and killed him. Officials were still working to explore a motive in that case as well.

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