Funeral instead of 14th birthday for teen killed at festival

Olga R. Rodriguez
Associated Press

San Jose, Calif. – Mourners used colored markers to write messages on Keyla Salazar’s white casket before a funeral Tuesday for the middle-school teenager killed in a mass shooting at a California food festival.

“Keyla, you’re an angel. We will never forget you!” read one. Another said, “Keyla, I love you with all my heart.”

A Mass in English and Spanish was held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in San Jose just two days after the girl with the sweet smile would have turned 14.

Relatives including her sobbing mother wore T-shirts with a photo of a grinning Keyla wearing a crown of small pink paper flowers.

It was the first memorial for one of three people killed July 28 when Santino William Legan cut through a fence and opened fire with a Romanian-made AK-47 style-rifle at the popular Gilroy Garlic Festival. Also killed were 6-year-old Stephen Romero of San Jose and Trevor Irby, 25, of Romulus, New York. More than a dozen people were injured.

Mourners write on Keyla Salazar's casket during the 13-year-old's funeral on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019, in San Jose, Calif.

Legan, 19, killed himself after officers shot him multiple times, officials said. Authorities have not determined a motive in the attack that came the weekend before a shooting in Texas and another in Ohio left a combined 31 people dead.

Authorities said Tuesday an ongoing investigation has found that Legan kept a “target list” that included religious groups, federal buildings and both major U.S. political parties. The finding prompted the FBI to open a domestic terrorism case.

Reporters weren’t permitted inside the church but the family released a statement before the service.

“She was a girl who loved science and technology, creating ingenious videos, making everyone laugh,” it said. “Her greatest hope was to pursue a career in animation, designing and creating characters and stories.

“Keylita was very loved by everyone and will always be in our hearts for her pure and beautiful life teachings that she left us.”

Afterward San Jose Bishop Oscar Cantu estimated that hundreds of people had packed the church. “She was the spark and the joy of the family,” Cantu told reporters. “She always hugged every (family) member, particularly when they were having a bad day. That’s the legacy she leaves us.”

A private burial was planned in Palo Alto.

Keyla would have turned 14 on Sunday and the family had planned to go to a lake and celebrate, her aunt Katiuska Pimentel said. Instead, relatives and friends gathered over the weekend to celebrate her life at a San Jose park, where they showcased her artwork.

They served tacos, listened to a mariachi band and helped plant flowers to honor Keyla’s memory.

On the day of the shooting, the teenager was eating ice cream with her mother, stepfather, two younger sisters and other relatives when they heard what they thought were fireworks.

A mourner cries while attending a funeral for Keyla Salazar, 13, on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019, in San Jose, Calif. Salazar and two others were killed when a gunman opened fire at the Gilroy Garlic Festival July 28. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

When they realized they were gunshots, her stepfather, Eduardo Lopez, said the family started to run away. But Keyla stayed back to help a relative who used a cane. When Lopez turned around, he said he saw Keyla fall and thought she was taking cover. When he went back to help her get up, he said he was shot in the arm.

“It’s been very hard losing her, especially for her mother. She hasn’t felt well,” Lopez said.

Pimentel described the teenager as a hardworking student who loved drawing and video games.

She loved animals and was planning on getting a puppy for one of her sisters. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who attended Sunday’s celebration, promised the family a golden retriever.

“She was such a caring person,” Pimentel said. “She would give everything to other people … We lost a really beautiful life.”