Employees from the North Park restaurant Flavors of East Africa were among the thousands who heard gunshots during a deadly shooting at the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival.
The shooting claimed the lives of three, including a 6-year-old boy, a 13-year-old girl and a man in his 20s. It also wounded 12 others.
“All of a sudden we started hearing very loud popping noises, for a brief second I thought it was fireworks, then I started recognizing them as gunshots,” said David Buelna, manager at Flavors of East Africa.
David attended the festival alongside three cooks. The group was among other San Diego County arts and food vendors at the event.
“We started seeing swarms and swarms of people just running and people just tripping over themselves a lot of people were crying and screaming,” said Buelna.
Buelna told NBC 7 via a FaceTime interview how he and his team tried to calm people down as best as they could and try to figure out what was going on.
At one point following the shooting Buelna’s cook described the festival grounds as a zoo of police and people, with some trying to help those who had fallen or were shot.
Gilroy Police said officers responded in under a minute.
“It seems like the situation escalated very quickly and you just never know what's going to happen in life,” said Buelna.
Buelna’s co-workers are originally from East Africa. He said they have experienced war zones and refugee situations.
“It’s not their first time in a situation like that, but it’s their first time in this situation here in America and kind of having that feeling ‘I thought we left to get away from that and here we are,’” he explained.
Flavors of East Africa is located on El Cajon Blvd. The eatery is well known at weekly farmers markets in Hillcrest, Ocean Beach and at San Diego State University.
Buelna said he loves going out to these public events but feared something like this could happen.
“It was definitely very surreal, going out to a lot of events and always seeing these shootings on the news there was always this dark thought on back of my mind, what if it happens to one of events I go to,” he shared. “So, it was a very surreal feeling to be like, wow this is actually happening.”
The group was taken to Gavilan College where they were offered a place to shower and rest, while the FBI continues to investigate the festival grounds.
Buelna said his plan is to collect their things as soon as they are allowed and head back to San Diego, in order to make it in time for the Ocean Beach festival.
“It’s very tragic because this is a family oriented event and the community of Gilroy really loves to bring its citizens together,” lamented Buelna. “Our hearts go out to the families and everyone affected by this.”