After Club Q: Surviving the unthinkable and navigating the journey forward

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
After a mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, a makeshift memorial grows outside the LGBTQ club on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022.. Daniel Aston, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh, Derrick Rump and Raymond Green Vance were killed in the shooting.

Editor's Note: This story contains graphic descriptions of violence.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255

On November 19, 2022, a shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, took the lives of five people — Raymond Green Vance, 22, Daniel Aston, 28, Ashley Paugh, 35, Derrick Rump, 38, and Kelly Loving, 40. Dozens more were injured in the melee that followed, some by gunshots others by broken glass and debris.

Among those at Club Q that night were Thomas James, Ashtin Gamblin, John Arcediano, and Svetlana Heim. 

As the one-year mark of the shooting approaches, KRCC's Abigail Beckman sat down with each of them to talk about the physical, mental, and financial costs of surviving a mass shooting. Each spoke about the future of Club Q, the criminal justice system, and their day-to-day lives. The interviews shed light on the continued trauma and pain those impacted by the shooting grapple with daily.

A recent study published in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine focused on survivors of 13 mass shootings throughout the United States between 2012 and 2019. Part of that research looked at the medical care and costs incurred by survivors in the years following. The study included more than 400 people.

“[People] get shot and have a horrific life afterwards, where they can’t work and they get post-traumatic stress disorder and physical disability that affects them the rest of their life,” Dr. Mark Langdorf, the study’s senior author said. “And that’s all silent in the media… it’s not a silent injury. It’s a horrible injury.”

According to the study, the number of people who survive a mass shooting is as much as three times higher than the number killed, indicating that the long-term effects of mass shootings aren't always as simple as "surviving."

Primary findings from the study

  • The average hospital cost per patient was $31,885.
  • Among 364 patients with physical injuries, 44 percent had a physical disability at discharge and 13.3 percent were sent to long-term care.
  • 64 percent of the patients had either no insurance, Medicare or Medicaid.
  • In total, 50 patients had one or more psychiatric diagnoses, including anxiety or panic, acute stress disorder, major depressive disorder or symptoms, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The data from the study does not include information on survivors of the Club Q shooting, but court documents include the names of 46 people who made it out of the club alive. 

No two people have the same story, but each experience is tied together by change. Countless lives were shattered by the violence at Club Q. They continue to be reshaped and molded as the world moves on, forever changed.

Research from the American Psychological Association shows long-term outcomes for survivors of mass shootings are improved with the help of community connections and continuing access to mental health support. Research also shows that accessing necessary support is more difficult for LGBTQ people.

Data collected by the Community Health Partnership, a Colorado Springs-based group working to solve community health issues, found LGBTQ people face significant disparities in accessing mental and physical healthcare in the region. Close to half of respondents to a survey that the group sent out did not have a primary care physician. Nearly two-thirds did not have a mental health therapist due to fear of being outed, rejected, or not knowing how to find an affirming therapist.

The following profiles are an effort to help survivors of Club Q be seen and share what happens when the media frenzy fades and the business of living moves forward. 

Thomas James

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Thomas James at Club Q in Colorado Springs, October 20, 2023.
Thomas James

Thomas James is one of three people credited with stopping the Club Q shooter. He has mostly chosen to stay out of the limelight since the violence at Club Q. In this interview, James, a sailor with the Navy, recounts his decision to stop the shooter and explains why he's uncomfortable being called a hero.

"Calling me hero is a little off-putting for me…I did what I had to do. It was the right thing. And every accolade that came after was something I could do without. I'd trade every award for that night to never happen. But unfortunately, it's not a thing I can do."

Ashtin Gamblin

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Ashtin Gamblin at Club Q in Colorado Springs, October 20, 2023.
Ashtin Gamblin

Ashtin Gamblin checked IDs and worked the front door at Club Q. She was shot nine times. Gamblin shares her experiences and emotions around that night and in the time since. She also reflects on the death of her friend Daniel Aston, as well as the horror of sharing an ambulance ride with the shooter.

"There are some days when I actually have a body confidence and it's usually on those days that somebody will say something about my scars or I will see somebody staring. I will be blunt with them about it…because I wasn't a confident person before and I struggled with body confidence. And now, my scars…I can't hide them."

John Arcediano

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
John Arcediano outside Club Q in Colorado Springs, Oct. 3, 2023.
John Arcediano

John Arcediano survived the shooting at Club Q but his life continues to be molded by the violence he witnessed. He hopes that sharing his story now will bring about more acceptance of LGBTQ people. In this profile, Arcediano also remembers Derrick Rump and Daniel Aston, two of his friends killed that night.

"(After the shooting), there were still reports coming out. I remember going through and reading what people were saying in Facebook comments…'This is ridiculous. Stop reporting about it. Who cares if the f*gs died? …You're perpetuating this whole gay movement.' And that just goes to show you how much work we still have to do with acceptance as a society, and how cold people can truly be."

Svetlana Heim

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Svetlana Heim at the bar where she works, in Colorado Springs, Oct. 3, 2023.
Svetlana Heim

Svetlana Heim's first date with a woman was at Club Q. She briefly worked at the club and came to see the staff as family. Heim shares the moment she realized someone was shooting inside the nightclub and her selfless choice to protect others. She also talks about returning to the service industry despite the fear that's still with her.

"Mass shootings are something [where I figured], 'I already graduated high school. I'll be fine.' And you become so desensitized to it. Even though I was in a place with a minority community of LGBTQ in Colorado Springs, you just seriously never think it's going to be you."