Illustration by Kelly Bjork
Brothers Christian and Collin have lean builds, handsome features, and reddish facial hair in varying abundances. They each work in the restaurant industry: Christian is the chef de cuisine at a fancy seafood-and-steak place; Collin is a bartender at a popular cider house. Both are in their mid-30s—Christian is a year older—and they share a home nearby. “He works days and I work nights. It’s a great situation,” says Christian. “I’ll leave paperbacks out for him to read. We mostly share fantasy books. That’s the only genre we agree on,” Christian says. He and Collin grew up in a town near a state park, where “you could always ride bikes to the waterfront,” says Christian. Their mother was a nurse, and their father worked at a tires-and-rubber store for 30 years, and then “he had enough one day and quit,” says Collin.
Christian mentions he just got back from an oyster-opening festival. “We shucked 55,000 oysters in two days. I did 7,000 myself. I kept stabbing my thumb. I can’t feel my first three fingers,” he says, smilingly. Eventually, he’d like to move to the country to start his own oyster farm. “My end game is peace and quiet—with the trees, and the smell of saltwater,” he says, and it all sounds lovely. As we’re speaking, Christian and Collin and I occupy a tall-back wooden booth in neighborhood bar. The room is outfitted with old-west items: medallion wallpaper, curved brass furnishings, lampshades with brothel tassels. I’ve called the brothers to talk about their encounters with gun violence, and we begin with Christian and the Twilight Exit.
Christian was in the lounge the night of the shooting. He was perched on a stool at the center counter of the horseshoe bar. “I still sit in that same damned spot, every time,” he said. Christian and I were strangers to each other then, but we were seated in direct view, and our presences registered. Amy, another customer, was to Christian’s immediate left, and that was their first meeting. As Christian remembers, they were chatting, she was very nice, and she had to leave for work soon. “She had to go in for a crappy graveyard shift,” he said. Christian had ordered a meal, and he was drinking a beer while he waited. “I got a Cajun chicken salad with tater tots, light on the seasoning. I like to eat bland food when I’m done working,” he said. At one point, a woman came in. Christian didn’t know her, though later he’d learn her name was Whitney. As Christian would describe her to a detective, Whitney was thin, about 5’8”, and mixed-raced, African American, or Hispanic. She sat one seat down from Christian, on the other side of Amy. Christian heard Whitney asking the bartender if she could charge her phone, but he didn’t pay her much attention until a man came in. From Christian’s statement, the man was a light-skinned African-American in his late twenties to early thirties. “He was yelling at her as he walked in the door,” Christian told me. “He physically grabbed her, it was either on her shoulder or the side of her neck. He pushed her up against the wall or something. I couldn’t really see the whole thing, but it looked like he was restraining her. He accused her of having somebody break into his house, break his windows, and steal everything he had. He was listing all kinds of personal possessions. Something about his flat-screen TV. He was like, ‘You know what you did. You know what they were after. They killed my dog.’”
“I got up just to see if it went any further. I didn’t want to get into the altercation, but I was gonna help if I needed to. Amy and [the bartender] Natalie broke them apart. Amy told the guy he needed to leave, then the door guy Greg took him away. It kind of dispersed and we sat back down,” said Christian. As James was guided outside, Whitney “was smiling and chuckling about the whole thing. When I think about her smile, it was like a social shield,” he said. “Everybody, all the staff, asked her if she knew the guy. And she, like, nonchalantly said no. But it was very obvious she did know the guy. You could tell in her reaction. Anybody that gets grabbed like that by somebody is gonna freak out and yell for help. But she didn’t. She just kept looking at her phone. She was texting the entire time he was shouting at her. She had this smug look on her face,” said Christian. When James was gone, Whitney “sat there very calmly and continued to text and charge her cell phone. She was saying, ‘You guys need to call the cops. You all should just call the cops.’ Amy said to her, ‘Are you sure you don’t know him?’ And Whitney said, ‘I don’t. I’ve never seen him before.’ Then Amy commented to me. Something like, ‘She’s up to no good. She knows what she’s doing. She’s provoking him.’”
The exchange was odd but not especially jarring, and Christian and Amy quickly got back to hanging out. Fifteen or twenty minutes passed. “It was karaoke night, so everybody was talking about what songs they were going to sing. You know, everybody’s having fun,” he said. When James shot Greg near the building’s entrance, “we heard a loud pop outside in the alleyway. It sounded like gunfire. I’ve never really been around guns often, but it sounded like a gunshot. People started running all over. Somebody said ‘Out, out, out.’ It was so much chaos,” said Christian. “Then James comes in. He’s in the bar. He’s returned and he’s got a firearm pulled out. A silver handgun in his right hand. He’s making his way right to the girl. She runs past me, kind of behind me and around the other side of the bar where there’s a corner, and you can’t go any further. You’re stuck right there. That’s where you two were,” Christian said, in reference to me and my friend Lexi.
As James approached the lounge, “I was really nervous. I didn’t know where Amy went. I didn’t know where you two went. What I did was, I picked up the barstool by its feet and held the seat between him and myself and said to him, I don’t know what exactly: ‘Just get out of here. You don’t have to do this. You can leave. You can turn around and run right now.’ I was a couple feet from him. I was very close. I mean close enough to where I can see it right now. He pointed his gun at me. He aggressively, like, pointed it towards me. It was six or eight inches from my nose. I could smell the gun smoke. It smelled like fireworks. It was a hot metal smell. Once I had that thing in my face, it sunk in. I’ve never felt such a dropping fear. I was like, ‘This is actually happening. This is fucking real. He shot someone, and now he is pointing a gun at me.’ It was pointed right at me. I mean right at me. I’ve never had that happen before. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s something I’ll never forget. It was a silver handgun. I don’t know anything about guns. The barrel had a large opening. It had like a square. You could show me the end of that gun, and I could tell you if that was the gun or not,” said Christian.
James’s weapon was a Smith & Wesson 9mm semi-automatic pistol.
Photo Credit: Seattle Police Department.
“He was looking at me. I was so shaken I don’t remember exactly what he said. He said: ‘Get out of my way. Get out of here. Do you want this to be you? I don’t want to hurt you, but I will.’ Something to that effect. We were eye-to-eye. I remember the look on his face. It wasn’t anger. It was concern. He realized the gravity of his actions,” said Christian. “You know, he said ‘I don’t want to hurt you,’ and he had a smoking gun in his hand. That’s weird.”
“The reality of my situation became very real, very fast. I thought, ‘What am I gonna do with a barstool against a gun?’ Not a whole lot. I was like, ‘Look, man, this is uneven.’ I dropped the barstool to the floor,” said Christian. “I thought about my mom. At the time, I’d just gotten approved to give her my kidney. My right kidney. She has lupus. I’d gone through all the testing. I was so happy when they said I was a match. I wanted it to be me since the moment they said they were gonna test me,” he said. “Just earlier, I’d been asking one of the bartenders if she’d be able to walk my dog during my recovery time after the kidney-transplant surgery.”
As Christian ran from the lounge and towards the alleyway entrance, “I heard one more shot. Then one more shot right after that. Once I got outside, I stepped over Greg. He was off to the side of the doorway, laying on the ground bleeding. He asked me to call 911, but my phone was dead. I said, ‘Look, can I help you? Can I help you up?’ He’s like, ‘No, leave me right here. Just go call 911.’ I went and grabbed someone, but they were already on the phone with the police. At that point, I just sort of ran around the corner of the bar, to get away from all the commotion and everything happening. I was a block away. The police were kind of already there, and then I heard pop pop pop pop. I think it was one, two, three, four, five.”
“There were many unanswered questions for me, but I think the police did the right thing,” said Christian, looking back. “At first I was really pissed off at that woman. I still am. I didn’t realize how mad until this morning. I thought, ‘Man, that fucking bitch kept me up again.’ I knew I was going to talk to you today, so I’d been thinking about the whole thing a little more than I usually do, and I lost a little sleep,” said Christian. “She halfway knew what she was doing. James had concern for other people’s well-being. He had some slight human capacity. But why did she have to go to the bar? It’s not like she had no place to go. She didn’t provoke him from her house,” he said. “She’d set the guy up for something, based on his reactions. That was somebody pushing somebody to the limit. That was a human coming to a breaking point. When people would talk about the shooting afterwards, the racial thing would come up far too often. But that had nothing to do with it. Anybody could do this to anyone else. It matters how far you push them,” Christian said, then he transitioned into another vivid scene.
“Six months later my brother got shot right outside our house. He was coming down the stairs, and a guy came out of the alleyway and asked him for a cigarette,” said Christian. Collin stands and turns, and as he lifts his shirt, he reveals a smeary pink oval just above his hip. “It was a flesh wound,” said Collin. “The bullet went right through the fat. When he shot me, the guy had been standing so close that the bullet was hot, and it cauterized the tissue when it went through.” The shot was close enough to Collin’s kidney that doctors monitored for complications, but none appeared. “The recovery ended up taking about a month. I wasn’t supposed to twist at the waist. I couldn’t really move or do much. It sucked, but it wasn’t as bad as passing a kidney stone,” he said. (Collin has a history of stones, so his kidney was never considered as a donation option for his mother.)
The shooting occurred on the fifth of July. “I was headed home from work. It was just after midnight. I’d gotten food at a brewery and bought a growler of beer that I’d put in my backpack. I couldn’t have been closer to home. I was literally about to get home,” he said. Collin passed a stairwell in a dark area. “There was a lady who’d passed away. She’d been gone eight months or a year, and her house was still vacant. I couldn’t really see him coming out of the yard. That’s where he came from. He was an older black dude, maybe 45 to 55. He was wearing a big dark hoodie, and he had the hood up so I couldn’t see his face really. He asked me for a cigarette. I told him I didn’t have one. He said, ‘That’s cool because I don’t want a cigarette. Give me your fucking wallet.’ He had a .22 revolver cocked and pointed at me, ready to go. I had $25 on me. I tried to hand it to him. He was about six feet away. The gun went off. I got popped right in the side. I don’t know if he meant to shoot or not. He took off running. He got away clean,” said Collin. (Later that night, cops apprehended a suspect at a crowded drive-in burger joint. “They pulled over some guy at Dick’s. They thought he matched the description, and they asked me to identify him,” said Collin. “It turned out he wasn’t the right guy, but he happened to have a ton of drugs on him, so he got arrested anyway. It was his unlucky day.”)
We return to the moment of injury. “I didn’t feel it at all. I didn’t even know I was shot at first. Then I noticed my legs were wet. I thought it was blood. Then I thought I’d pissed myself. I realized it was beer. The bullet went through my side, through my backpack, and it broke the growler,” said Collin. “I’d totally forgot that was even in there.”
“Were you scared?” I said.
“Yes,” said Collin.