A man who had been going to Club Q for decades was opening a card at the bar when he was shot in the back. Another man was about to leave the club with his group when he heard “pop, pop, pop” and got shot in the arm – then saw his boyfriend and sister fall to the floor.
They are among the 17 people injured Saturday in a shooting spree when a 22-year-old man went on a shooting spree at Club Q, a well-known club for the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs. On Tuesday, they shared the horror of seeing their loved ones shot down before their eyes, as well as the hope they felt as people helped each other through the chaos.
Ed Sanders, 63, said he was waiting in line at the bar, made his way forward and gave the bartender his credit card when he was hit in the back – right between the shoulder blades. Startled, he turned to look at the bandit, only to hit him again in the thigh as another volley of shots rang out.
“I feel it. And they all fell,” Sanders said in a video statement released Tuesday by the UCHealth Memorial Hospital Center. “It was very traumatic. I covered another woman with a coat … there was a lot of chaos.”
James Slaugh said he, his boyfriend and sister were getting ready to leave the club when “all of a sudden we just heard ‘pup, pop, pop’. When I turned around, I got a bullet in the shoulder from behind.
Slaugh, who spoke to The Associated Press from his hospital bed, said he saw others around him collapse – including his boyfriend, who was shot in the leg, and his sister, who had gunshot wounds in 13 places. He quickly called the police, heard a few more shots, then nothing. He said the most terrifying part of the shooting was the uncertainty of whether the gunman would shoot again.
Five people were killed in the shooting, which stopped after the gunman was disarmed by customers.
The motive for the attack is still under investigation and no formal charges have been filed against the man. Police say he was armed with multiple firearms, including an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, and possible hate crimes are being considered.
“I want to be resilient. I’m a survivor,” Sanders said. “I’m not going to be taken by some sick person.”
Sanders has been a patron of Club Q for 20 years and even attended its opening several decades ago. In the video recorded by the hospital, he was wearing a hospital gown and an oxygen tube in his nose.
He said that after the 2016 Pulse, Florida, gay nightclub shooting that killed 49 people, Sanders wondered what he would do if something similar happened at Club Q – but never dreamed it would become a reality.
“I’m smiling now because I’m glad to be alive,” said Sanders. “I avoided a major event in my life and got through it, and that’s part of who I am as a survivor.”
Sanders knew many of the victims, including the “doorkeeper” and two bartenders who died. Sanders said that after the shooting, people who weren’t hit helped each other “just like a family would.”
Sanders said the shot in the back missed vital organs but broke a rib. He said he now has a concave wound on his back and will need skin grafts. Sanders was also shot in the thigh and said that “that was the most blood.”
“I think this incident highlights the fact that LGBT people need to be loved,” Sanders said.
For Slaugh, Club Q was where he felt safe after coming out as gay at the age of 24. Eight months ago, he met his partner Jancarlos Del Valle there, and they took his sister Charlene there on Saturday night to cheer her up after their recent breakup as well as their mother’s death from COVID-19 a year ago.
Slaugh said that after the gunman was overpowered, the club immediately became a community again. Patrons grabbed paper towels to try to stop the bleeding wounds. One man told Slaugh it would be fine and kissed him on the forehead.
“It was such an assurance to me,” he said. “The hope remains.”
Del Valle and James were rushed to one hospital, while Charlene, who had more serious injuries, was rushed to another. James said he didn’t find out what happened to his sister until the next day. A support community has formed around the Slaughs, including a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for medical bills. News poured in from all over the world.
“Being shot, being a victim of it all – gave me a feeling of more hope than anything else, especially when everyone was getting together,” he said. “This is no time to be afraid. This is not the time to let one horrible person in. It’s time to meet.”