Wed. Nov 23rd, 2022

One man who had frequented Club Q for decades was opening his bar card 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 was shot in the arm – then watched as his boyfriend and sister fell to the floor.

They were among 17 people shot and wounded Saturday when a 22-year-old man went on a rampage at Club Q, a well-known LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs. On Tuesday, they shared the horror of watching their loved ones fall in front of them, as well as the hope they felt as people helped each other in the chaos.

Ed Sanders, 63, said he was waiting in line at the bar, made his way to the front and handed the bartender his credit card when he was hit in the back – right between the shoulder blades. Surprised, he turned to look at the attacker, only to be shot again in the thigh when another volley of shots was fired.

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“I fell. And everybody fell,” Sanders said in video statements released Tuesday by UCHealth Memorial Hospital Center. “It was very traumatic. I covered the other woman with my coat? it was a lot of chaos.”

James Slaugh said he, his boyfriend and his sister were about to leave the club when, “all of a sudden we just heard, ‘pop, pop, pop.’ As I turned around, I received a bullet in my arm from behind.”

Slaugh, who spoke to The Associated Press from his hospital bed, said he watched others around him fall _ including his boyfriend, who was shot in the leg, and his sister, who had bullet wounds in 13 places. He quickly called the police, a few more shots were heard, and then nothing. The scariest part of the shooting, he said, was not knowing if the gunman would shoot again.

Five people were killed in the shooting, which stopped after patrons disarmed the attacker.

The motive for the attack is still being investigated, and the man has not been officially charged. Police say he was armed with multiple firearms, including an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, and possible hate crimes are being considered.

Click to play video: 'Suspect arrested in Colorado Springs LGBTQ+ nightclub shooting'

Suspect arrested in Colorado Springs LGBTQ+ nightclub shooting

“I want to be resilient. I am a survivor,” Sanders said. “I don’t want to be taken out by some sick person.”

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Sanders has been a patron of Club Q for 20 years, and even attended the club’s opening decades ago. He was wearing a hospital gown and had an oxygen tube in his nose in the video taken by the hospital.

He said that after the shooting at gay nightclub Pulse in Florida in 2016, in which 49 people were killed, Sanders thought about what he would do if something similar happened at Club Q – but never dreamed it would become a reality.

“I’m laughing now because I’m happy to be alive,” Sanders said. “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 “homemaker” and the two bartenders who died. Sanders said that after the shooting, people who weren’t hit helped each other “like a family would.”

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Sanders said the shot to his back missed vital organs but broke a rib. He said he now has a concave wound on his back and will need a skin graft. Sanders was also shot in the thigh and said “that was the most blood.”

“I think this incident highlights the fact that LGBT people should be loved,” Sanders said.

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For Slaugh, Club Q was a place where he felt safe after coming out as gay at the age of 24. That’s where he met his partner Jancarlos Del Valle eight months ago, and where they took his sister Charlene for the night on Saturday to cheer her up from a recent breakup, as well as their mother’s death from COVID-19 a year ago.

Slaugh said that after the attacker was subdued, the club immediately became a community again. Visitors grabbed paper towels to try to stop the bleeding wounds. One man told Slaugh he would be fine and kissed him on the forehead.

Click to play video: 'Mass shooting at Colorado gay nightclub leaves at least 5 dead, 18 injured: Police'

Police in Colorado gay club mass shooting leave at least 5 dead, 18 injured

“That was such a reassurance to me,” he said. “That hope remains.”

Del Valle and James were rushed to one hospital, and Charlene, who had more serious injuries, was taken to another. James said he didn’t find out what happened to his sister until the next day. A community of support has formed around the Slaughs, including a GoFundMe campaign to pay medical bills. Messages came from all over the world.

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“Being shot, being a victim of this whole thing — it left me feeling more hopeful than anything else, especially with everyone gathered together,” he said. “This is not the time to be afraid. This is not the time to let one horrible person go. This is the time to come together.”

© 2022 The Canadian Press