Library, DA’s office team up in aftermath of tragedy

HERE TO HELP Community Librarian Lani Yoshimura (left) and her staff at the Gilroy Library connected victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting to needed services. Photo: Steven Ewertz

The Gilroy Library, a staple in Gilroy and valued asset to the South County community, provided the first step in the healing process for victims of the tragic shooting at the Garlic Festival, offering a welcoming and familiar environment to connect with agencies and services they needed.

“Lani Yoshimura and the Gilroy Library staff were instrumental in making the library available to the partner organizations and still maintaining open hours to the public to give residents a welcoming place to go,” said Diane Roche, director of communications and marketing for the Santa Clara County Library District.

In addition to dealing with the media blitz that descended on the library grounds the day after the event, Community Librarian Lani Yoshimura received a visit from Monica Sendejas, recreation coordinator for the City of Gilroy, requesting space to set up a Family Assistance Center.

The library was thought to be a viable option due to its close proximity to the Emergency Operations Center, the former police department headquarters at 7351 Church St.  

“The decision to contact the library was made by members of our EOC team, which is staffed in an emergency by city employees,” said City of Gilroy spokesperson Rachelle Bedell.

The week following the horrific shooting, Rucker Elementary School was utilized for the EOC, but with the new school year about to begin, it was no longer available. Yoshimura offered the cafe area and a small conference room located in the library’s lobby.

A few days later, on Aug. 4, Yoshimura received a call from Deputy County Librarian Chris Brown, requesting she provide additional space for Deputy District Attorney Adam Flores with the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office in Morgan Hill, the lead agency running the assistance center.

Yoshimura and her staff, in conjunction with Wheeler Gym, City Hall Annex and the EOC, made every effort to accommodate space for the District Attorney’s Office’s Victims Services Unit, the Community Prosecution Unit, FBI Victim Services Division, Red Cross, Santa Clara County Behavioral Health Services, City of Gilroy, Gilroy Police Department and Gilroy Fire Department.

“It was a mad scramble for us because we had programs and bookings,” Yoshimura said, adding that her staff was very accommodating and made it happen.

“Within days, the FAC was up and running at the Gilroy Library,” Flores said. “The library and City of Gilroy employees complemented a selfless and dedicated multi-agency team, led by the District Attorney’s Office, (and) without hesitation, did everything they could to come together to serve the victims of the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting and provide them the help they needed to heal.”

With nearly every conference room in the library utilized by outside agencies, the first stop for those in need of help was a greeting center tent set up in the paseo parking lot. Once the individual’s need was determined they were escorted to the designated location.

“They would physically walk them there, which was fantastic and it really made it run smoother because people got to the right spot,” Yoshimura said.

Behavioral Health was on hand providing counseling and support, including the library staff, many of whom had been present the day of the shooting.  

“They had a staff of psychologists, and there were people who were specialists,” Yoshimura said. “It was good to talk about it.”

Housed in the Wheeler Gym, adjacent to the library, the FBI was charged with returning personal property and remained in operation Aug. 6-9.

“What was interesting was when people were reunited with their belongings, even if they didn’t want to take them, when they saw them they’d cry, because they would remember; it would bring back that memory,” Yoshimura said.

According to Flores, more than 700 people received service through the Family Assistance Center.

“You could just really see the extent of how deeply people took the entire thing, and they were very committed and affected,” Yoshimura said. “They would get people coming in and telling them all their sad stories, and some of them were first responders; that was very difficult. The whole team was incredible. It was amazing how it came together. The DA’s office and the other organizations really made it work.”

Even in the midst of all the chaos, Yoshimura and her staff remained committed to providing the library’s day-to-day services.

“We wanted to serve people, to help with the return to normality of the community, and people were coming to us for that,” Yoshimura said. “They said, ‘Thank god for the library.’ ”

A debriefing meeting for all agency leads was held on Aug. 9, where Flores, who headed up the meeting, expressed his appreciation for all of Yoshimura’s hard work.

“Lani Yoshimura was constantly at the FAC during the second week and always available to assist the agency partners in our service to the victims,” Flores said. “The library demonstrated that it is a pillar of the Gilroy community, providing a place for people to learn, grow and also heal.”

Kimberly Ewertz
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About Kimberly Ewertz
Kimberly Ewertz is a freelance writer for South Valley magazine and Gilroy Dispatch.