Eliason, a freelance photographer for three local newspapers, including the Gilroy Dispatch, had already taken photos at the festival earlier, he said in an interview.
But when news of the shooting broke, he raced to a hospital where victims were taken, into a swirl of paramedics, police officers, nurses and flashing emergency lights. Then he started to sense the familiar tenor of other mass shootings and the media coverage that follows it. A rampage, a flare on social media and a trickle — then a flood — of reporters crowding in to capture the agony for a global audience, only to disappear just as quickly.
Eliason arrived at the Gavilan College parking lot, where festivalgoers had marshaled to reunite with family. It was also where reporters gathered to nab vivid stories of survival.
Though he is a professional reporter, Eliason was dumbstruck by the response, with the area so jam-packed with cable news cameras and bright lights that it looked like a “movie set,” he wrote afterward in a Facebook post.
He was accustomed to the smaller slices of life outside San Jose. Things like carnivals and Little League Baseball — and every year, the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Now he was jostling for a place among neighbors he recognized in the crowd.
They were as awash in a crowd of reporters they did not recognize as the affable, camera-slinging reporter locally known for portraits of colorful people.
While shooting photos at a crowded news conference, he wrote, another journalist asked him to move to make room for his tripod.
“And I tell that guy and anyone else who will listen that this is my [expletive] town. That I know people who were out there. That students I have followed on the field who had volunteered to work the Festival had ended up running for their lives.
"That one friend was standing right next to the shooter. That one friend had bullets hit the wall right behind her. That one student I had just photographed for a feature risked his life to help two girls escape.”
Eliason saw one woman being asked a dizzying set of questions, he said, and at one point she had enough. “She said, ‘I can’t talk anymore,’ begging to be left alone, and the cameras were unrelenting,” he said in an interview.
He conceded that it was a difficult bind of his chosen profession and the job requirement to simply gather the news. But, he said, the crush of reporters vying for snippets felt like a violation. Camera crew members placed tripods in front of a disabled man and the parents of a wounded man who was shot as they watched remarks ahead of a candlelight vigil, he said.
“I honestly don’t know how you can objectively cover something like this without having a degree of respect,” he said. “It made me question everything there is about journalism on a scale like that. It’s not what I do. I’m really geared toward the community.”
The tension ate at Eliason when he passed the injured child’s family; it’s a rough calculus in the milliseconds before he puts his eye to the viewfinder. Was he telling a story? Being exploitative? At what point are those two things the same?
The family sat with candles. He asked for a photo, and they agreed. The screen lit up, and Eliason showed his work. Was it okay? The family nodded their approval.
There was another vigil planned for Tuesday, Eliason said, but he supposed most of the big media names were already recalling their reporters and crews, readying for the next flood, the next hurricane, the next fire and the next mass shooting.
“They are going to move on to some other thing but I was going to be there in town covering the memorials and the vigils and the grief,” Eliason wrote.
But he was going to be there, he said, to watch how people reckoned with what comes next.
That means recovery. That means adversity. That means, at some point, Eliason will be taking photos of children holding baseball bats instead of candles to mark the death of a classmate.