Gussied up in a red crushed velvet jacket, Ed Sanders arrived at Club Q a little before midnight on Saturday.
Sanders and a friend had enjoyed a magical night at a Denver ball, but he wasn’t ready for the festivities to end. He wanted to stop by Club Q, where he spends multiple nights a week.
On Wednesdays, it’s Bingo night. Thursdays, karaoke. There are drag shows on Friday through Sunday. Sanders knows everyone there.
“It’s my family, basically,’’ said Sanders, 63.
He got in line at the bar, waited his turn and handed over his credit card. He noticed a woman standing next to him at the bar and ordered his usual: rum and coke. He never got his drink.
Moments later, shots rang out. A bullet struck him in his upper back, near his right shoulder. It broke one of his ribs. A little while later, he learned it has missed his major organs.
“I turned around and saw him (the gunman), and it was very fast. There were two volleys of bullets. The second volley took my leg, and I fell,’’ he said. “Everybody fell, pretty much.’’
The woman who had been standing next to him fell too. He remembered trying not to roll on her, not to crush her.
When the shooting stopped, people were screaming, shouting for tourniquets. Patrons started to care for each other. That’s what family does.
“Several people asked about me, and I said that I was hit, and it didn’t seem that bad. The shot to my back didn’t feel like what it left, which is a big, scooped-out wound.’’
With his back to the door, he didn’t see what happened next.
He later heard that Army veteran Richard Fierro sprang into action and tackled the gunman, then pinned him down until police arrived. Fierro had been enjoying a fun night out with his wife, daughter and her boyfriend, whom police identified as one of five people who died in the mass attack. His name is Raymond Green Vance. The others who died are Daniel Aston, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh and Derrick Rump.
Recovering from gunshot wounds
Minutes after shots rang out, police and other first responders arrived. They transported Sanders and other injured patrons to UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central, a Level I Trauma Center only 12 minutes away from Club Q.
As Sanders lay in his hospital bed recovering on Monday, he reflected on the jarring thought that he had been in a mass shooting.
In a way, he expected to be a victim of violence someday.
“It has happened so many times in other places,’’ he said. “We get some rhetoric out here from hate groups … different groups that come out against us,” said Sanders who has been part of the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs for 31 years.
“I half-way expected something to happen. I always wondered what I would do. But I did what I did. It was a lot of regular customers, and it was family helping family basically. We took care of each other.’’
Sanders said he is thankful for the police, the paramedics and the doctors and nurses at Memorial who helped him.
Sanders is part of a nonprofit organization that raises money for charities, Inside/Out, a cat rescue and ovarian cancer, to name a few. It’s called The United Court of the Pikes Peak Empire and Sanders recently earned a special title: “Prince Royal.”
One of his nurses made a bracelet for him. It has his “Prince Royal” title on it.
“I’m doing ok, considering I lost friends,’’ Sanders said. “And I don’t think it has really sunk in because I am trying to keep a positive attitude about my own self.’’
Two days after the shooting, it’s still very much a shock.
“When I talk about it, I’m getting a little emotional. But I’m trying to put that off for another time because right now, I just need to focus on getting better,’’ he said.
Helping those around him
Moments after Sanders had been shot, he felt the woman from the bar next to him. He’s not sure if she survived.
“I was trying not to lean on her,’’ Sanders said. “I put my coat over her. She was shivering and not breathing very well. And there was another woman…who’s an entertainer there. She was helping the other woman too, trying to encourage her to breathe.”
A Colorado Springs Police officer, who had arrived three minutes after the first shots rang out, came to Sanders with paper towels and Sanders placed them on the woman’s stomach to try to stop the bleeding.
Paramedics took the woman out of the club first, then Sanders. An ambulance rushed him to Memorial Hospital Central, where a team of doctors and nurses in the trauma center who often train for mass casualty events, stood at the ready.
Sanders was among a dozen people who arrived at the hospital in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Sadly, caregivers have dealt with these kinds of crises before.
Doctors took Sanders to surgery to debride the wounds to his back and leg. He had been in the hands of physicians before. He said he is a survivor who has beaten full-blown HIV-AIDS and he has coped with dementia too. He vowed he’ll survive this too.
What hurts most is the loss of two bartenders and others who died in the shooting that night. He’d known one of them for at least five years and another for a couple of years. One gave him a ride home late at night when he couldn’t catch an Uber.
Sanders and all of those who were at Club Q have gone through hell. For Sanders, the emotional is much harder than the physical. But he wants his friends and his family, and the world to know that he is a survivor.
“I’ll be ok.’’