Before he was shot twice inside Club Q, once between his shoulder blades and once in his right leg, Ed Sanders was having the night of his life.
Earlier on Nov. 19, he and a few of his friends from Colorado Springs drove to Denver to attend the Snow Ball, a large winter-themed charity gala. The group was representing the United Court of the Pikes Peak Empire, a local LGBTQ organization, at the event.
Sanders, 63, had recently been elected to a leadership position in the group. He bought a red velvet suit with black lapels just for the occasion.
Donning a cane and crown, he performed a “walk” in front of the crowd in Denver. He danced with friends and posed for photos.
Afterwards, Sanders and his group drove back to Colorado Springs, debating along the way whether to head home or not. Feeling wide awake, Sanders asked to be dropped off at Club Q, his neighborhood bar where he’d spent many nights over the years.
“I didn’t want the night to end,” Sanders said.
He arrived shortly before midnight, stopping in the bathroom before getting in line for a drink at the bar. Club Q was busy, but not packed, he remembers thinking.
Music blared from the dance floor nearby as he handed his credit card to the bartender. As soon as he let go, he heard the loud sound of gunfire behind him and felt a “pinprick” sensation between his shoulder blades.
As he turned around, he saw the flash of bullets and the dark outline of a person holding a rifle. He realized he’d been shot.
Before he could react, he felt another bullet strike his right leg, and he fell to the floor. He laid still for a moment in silence, making eye contact with several friends nearby.
“We were trying to play dead because we didn't know if he was gonna shoot again,” Sanders said.
He remembers seeing the shooter walk toward the dance floor in the direction of the club’s back patio, where about 30 people fled. There, two patrons, Richard Fierro and Thomas James, wrestled the shooter to the ground, stopping the bloodshed.
Sanders doesn’t remember seeing the altercation.
As it was happening, he and one of his friends, a drag performer named Potted Plant, tended to a woman lying on the floor next to them. She had been shot in the stomach and was shivering, Sanders said.
“I put my coat around her belly and we compressed it,” he said. “Less than two minutes later the EMTs and police arrived, and they took her immediately and then they came back for me because I had blood pouring from my leg.”
Sanders was one of 17 people who were shot but survived the massacre, according to Colorado Springs police. The attack also caused non-gunshot related injuries to more than a dozen other people. Five Club Q patrons died.
The alleged shooter was arrested and is now facing 305 criminal counts that include first-degree murder, attempted murder and hate crimes. The hundreds of charges are likely among the most ever filed in a single murder case like this in the state of Colorado.
As legal proceedings get underway, survivors are beginning the long road to recovery from the latest deadly mass shooting incident in the state.
After surviving the shooting, Sanders was taken to UCHealth’s Memorial Hospital Central in Colorado Springs along with 10 other victims.
There he learned the bullet that entered his back between his shoulder blades had broken a rib, but it missed his heart and other major organs. He underwent skin graft surgery for the wound on his right leg.
Sanders said he lost his cellphone in the chaos, so a friend purchased a burner phone for him to call his family to let them know he was alive. A few days later, he gained access to his Facebook account to post updates about his recovery.
“I've been kind of cut off from the world,” Sanders said. “But I always expected to make it.”
He said he didn’t sleep for three nights after the shooting. When he finally did, he had strange dreams of trying to get somewhere he could never reach. He would wake up frustrated and confused.
On Thanksgiving, he spent some time with other survivors in their hospital rooms nearby, listening to their stories of that horrible night. He has hardly cried since the shooting, he said.
“I really haven't grieved yet,” he said. “But I know it’s coming.”
Sanders said he is most upset about not being able to attend the funerals of his longtime friends Derrick Rump and Daniel Aston, who were killed that night. As a regular at Club Q, he’d gotten to know the two bartenders and performers well over the years.
They liked to call him “Mr. Ed.”
“They always took care of me,” Sanders said. “Derrick in particular rode me home a couple times when I couldn't get an Uber. They were just that kind of caring type family. I considered them brothers.”
It took more than a week and a half after the shooting before Sanders could walk again. The first time he tried, he had to use a walker because he was shaking so badly, he said.
On Thursday, 19 days after the shooting, he received the all clear from his doctor to get discharged and he left the hospital. Other than Sanders, only two other survivors remained in the hospital, according to UCHealth.
An advocate from the police department returned Sanders' phone to him and he spent the morning calling friends and family to let them know. He most looked forward to seeing family and petting his cat, Lucky, who he hadn’t seen for more than two weeks, he said.
He plans to cooperate with law enforcement’s investigation into the shooting, and will go to the trial, but only if he’s called as a witness, he said. He mainly just wants to see Club Q reopen.
“I’ll be first in line when it does,” he said. “I’m not gonna let hate change my lifestyle or my social activities, and I’m definitely not going to live in fear.”
After Sanders signed his discharge paperwork, a close friend drove to the hospital to bring him a change of clothes—a black Three Stooges t-shirt and blue jeans.
A nurse wheeled him out of his room and down a hallway. Hospital staff, including some of his doctors and nurses, lined the way, cheering and clapping for him as he neared the front door.
As the fresh air hit him, he sobbed.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said. “Thank you.”
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