Only a moment after the photo was snapped, Susan Hannah heard the gun shots.
“At first I thought it was firecrackers. I looked in another direction and I saw the look on their faces of sheer terror,” said Hannah, a San Carlos resident and business owner recalling the crowd she witnessed fleeing from a gunman who opened fire Sunday, June 28, at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.
Hannah, 71, and her family were unwinding in the volunteer appreciation area during the final hours of the community event after a day working the admissions gate. Her group gathered for a picture, capturing the final moment of peace before the unforgettable chaos broke out.
“I’m very shaken,” she said. “We all are.”
Once the pops they heard were identified as gunshots, Hannah’s daughter Sheila Murphy-Brewer sprung to action. A former school principal with active shooter safety training, Murphy-Brewer instructed Hannah and her friends and family to hide under the bench where they were seated. From the ground, they spotted a nearby truck which could provide more protection where they scrambled for safety.
“Going from under the table to the truck we were exposed — it was scary and we had to run,” said Hannah.
Once shielded from the gunfire, Hannah, Murphy-Brewer and the rest of their group hurriedly boarded an idling bus. Hannah said it was there the gravity of the moment started to settle.
“People were in all stages of hysteria and fear. They were still ducking down in the bus seats because nobody knew what was going on,” she said.
The bus ultimately moved Hannah and her group off the festival grounds, away from the threat posed by a gunman identified later as 19-year-old Santino Legan, who killed three festival attendees before he was fatally shot by police. Legan’s victims were 6-year-old Stephen Romero, 13-year-old Keyla Salazar and 25-year-old Trevor Irby.
In the attack, Legan used a WASR-10 weapon which police characterized as “AK-47-type” rifle that he purchased legally in Nevada, before illegally taking it across the state line.
At her closest, Hannah estimated she was about 50 yards from Legan when he opened fire — too far for her to get a glimpse of the shooter or the victims.
“Thank God we were lucky enough to not see carnage directly,” she said. “So I think as awful as I feel right now, I’d be so much worse off. It was bad enough the screams and the pandemonium and the people running in all directions.”
Yet despite her physical safety, Hannah said she can feel the emotional and physiological toll of exposure to tragedy settling in, characterizing herself one day later as numb and disoriented.
Hannah said she has been inundated in the hours since the shooting with well wishes from friends, family and associates reaching out to comfort her. And while she appreciates the sentiment, Hannah said the feedback compounds the confusion she is experiencing.
“What do you do in this situation? I have no idea,” she said.
While searching for answers to myriad questions, Hannah found clarity in admiring the courage and leadership shown by her daughter in the face of immediate danger.
“My daughter is my hero,” said Hannah. “I watched her become the leader of our little group. She never let go of my hand. There were times when I had to run or duck or whatever and I just immediately took her as my leader, as we all did. To watch her go into action and see the look on her face and know she was taking charge, we just all got in line.”
Also amidst the variety of emotions experienced for Hannah is anger and frustration that another outbreak of lethal gun violence forever marred a community event she volunteered for to benefit her daughter’s animal shelter.
“I just don’t understand it. What is it going to take? It’s outrageous,” said Hannah, regarding her wish for policy reforms designed to make weapons like the one used in Gilroy illegal or impossible for teens like Legan to obtain.
But recognizing the similarities between her wishes and the advocacy calls from the other mass shooting survivors before her, Hannah expressed skepticism that any substantive change could be on the horizon.
“You hope, but I’m not very hopeful,” she said.
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