Portrait by Kelly Bjork
Gina and I are sitting at a wooden picnic table shaded by a giant canvas umbrella. Lean and model-tall, Gina wears a button-up collared shirt and an understated silver necklace, and she has long, curly hair, which she frequently adjusts. It’s been an uncomfortably hot day, but it’s evening now, and there are just the right number of people on the deck with us. A man walks past, carrying a blue-eyed puppy in his arms. “Sorry it took me so long to get back to you,” she says. She laughs often as she’s speaking, and this gives her statements a glossy, revelatory quality. “I don’t know why, but it always takes me a few days when it comes to phone stuff. I forget to check it, or I forget to respond. My friends all kinda know that about me, but strangers probably wonder about it,” Gina says.
Our correspondence stretched out for a couple weeks, but it wasn’t a big deal, and I tell her I don’t mind. Today we’re on the back porch at the Twilight Exit. Gina suggested we meet here, and as we’re settling in, I ask if she has any hard feelings associated with the shooting. “It was a very unfortunate thing, but it wasn’t personally addressed towards me, and it didn’t impact my life that much,” she says. “If someone brings it up, I don’t like to mention I was here. I don’t like to be like, ‘This happened to me.’ It didn’t feel like it happened to me. I just happened to be there. I guess in a way I don’t even feel like it’s my story to share.”
We begin by going over Gina’s basics, such as her age. She’s 26. “That sounds so old to me. Even though I know 26 is not old, but it sounds like it is when I say it out loud,” she says. Gina lives in Tacoma and is getting a tech-degree in hospitality and management. She’s almost done, and it’s likely she’ll move to a different state afterwards. “My boyfriend wants to work at a ski resort. I’d be down for that. I’m in a transitional career time,” she says. On top of school, Gina cooks for a food truck stationed inside a Seattle brewery. She loves it, she says, “but honestly I’m pretty happy doing most jobs.” Before all this, Gina had been going to a university in California, but it didn’t stick. “I had a misguided college career. I just hated everything about it. The huge lecture halls. Being talked at,” Gina says.
A few years ago, when Gina relocated to Seattle, she called upon her friends Laura and Sam, who were already here and sharing an apartment. “I showed up at their place one day with a carful of shit. I was kind of like an errant house guest. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was looking for an apartment, looking for a job. All that stuff. I was staying on their couch, but I eventually graduated to an air mattress,” said Gina. “I ended up just living with them. It actually worked out really well. Laura and I shared a room as long as we lived together, a total of three or four years. We even tried to save space and share a bed, because—have you seen Laura? She is, like, this tall,” said Gina, gesturing at waist level. “But we gave that up after two nights. It was a twin bed. It went horribly for both of us. I don’t mind spooning Laura, but we were both rolling around all night. I’m, like, six feet tall. I was the size of the bed,” she said.
The pair met by chance, several years back. “My twin brother was in downtown Santa Cruz one day, just walking on the sidewalk, talking to somebody about how he wanted to buy some weed,” she said. “Laura was right behind him and overheard him. She didn’t know him, but she came up and told him she had some, and he could come over and get it from her later. I happened to be with him then when he stopped by for it. I could tell she was awesome right away, and we’ve been best friends ever since,” she said.
Gina and I skip ahead to the day of the shooting. She’d been living in Seattle about a month. She’d found a job by then, as a cook in a cafe in an affluent neighborhood. “It was a Sunday. I probably went to work that day and was bumming around after I got home, waiting for Laura or Sam to come over and get ready. We went to the Twilight every Sunday at least, and probably a little too often besides. It was kinda like our spot, instantly. It was the very first place Laura brought me when I moved out here,” she said. That evening at home, Laura eventually materialized, along with several other women (including Taryn). “We were all getting ready and drinking and dancing in the house. We were in a big group, so it was exciting. There were friends and friends of friends with us. I didn’t know everyone that well because I’d just met most of them within the past month. But they were all very super likable friendly people, and I feel like I’m a super likable friendly person, and that always keeps it easy,” she said.
“We used to live just a block from here, so we walked over. I remember the doorman said something about my stupid driver’s license when he was IDing us. At the time, I still had my California driver’s license. In the picture I was wearing a princess tiara,” she said. I’m curious how that happened. “It wasn’t like I was dressing up for the photo. I got the picture taken right after I’d turned 16, and that’s just what I happened to be wearing that day. I used to dress up all the time back then. I’d wear, like, fairy wings or fuzzy green alien bobbers on my head,” said Gina. “The door guy said, ‘I recognize you, Miss Princess.’ It was just a random thing. Like, ‘Oh, here’s my embarrassing ID again.’ But he remembered it, which was nice after just moving somewhere.”
Gina’s group claimed a large table in the center of the dining area. “We’d just gotten in and gotten drinks and sat down. We were meeting a friend and she was there already. I kinda remember she was telling us about the altercation that’d happened. Like, a guy was thrown out. She was like, ‘I’m glad you guys are here. There’s been something crazy happening.’ She looked sort of concerned by it. That was about it,” said Gina. “We must’ve been there about ten minutes. I’d probably ordered a gin and tonic double. That’s always a good drink, but I don’t think I even drank the whole thing. I remember the screaming outside and hearing one gunshot. It was just like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’ After that, I don’t remember any sounds happening. At all. I don’t know if it’s because I haven’t talked about it a lot, or if it’s changed in my memory. But I don’t remember hearing any sounds again until we were back at our apartment. The next thing I heard was the gunshots when the police came,” she said.
Back in the dining room and just after the gun went off, Gina never caught a glimpse of the shooter. “I remember someone throwing a table over, and everyone being on the floor and just kind of looking around, and seeing the karaoke guy motioning to the back door, and seeing a couple other people stand up and go. I know Laura was one of them, but I don’t even remember it being Laura. More like, ‘Someone else is going that way. I’m gonna follow.’ I was briefly concerned there might be more people shooting outside, but I was like, ‘I do not wanna die in this little room,’” she said.
When I ask Gina to describe her movement across the dining area and out the exit door, her tone stays thoroughly easy-breezy. “I highly doubt I crawled because I hate that kind of maneuver. I hate bending my knees. I don’t know why. It’s a lot of pressure. The flopping,” she said, gently flinging her arms in demonstration. “I can’t imagine crawling honestly. I probably got up and did a half-duck run, if anything,” she said, then continued. “I can kind of remember people being around me when I was running outside. I remember running across the alley entrance and being like, ‘I hope no one shoots me right now.’ I had no idea what was happening. In a vague part of my brain I saw the flashing lights and police cars going down the street as we were running. Then we were just running to our house, and it was like, ‘Ok, everyone’s here,’ and then, ‘What’s going on,’ and then a bunch more gunshots happened when we were still standing outside. I didn’t realize there was only the one person inside the bar. It seemed like an infinity of gunfire. It felt excessive. When I found out later what was happening, it seemed extremely unnecessary,” she said. Even still, Gina feels it’s likely the police responded fairly. “That’s a hard judgment, and I’ve never been in that situation—to have to value the life of a human being over other human beings. I don’t think most police officers have malicious intent. I really don’t,” she said. “We’d also just realized one of our friends didn’t make it back with us, and she wasn’t answering her phone. So maybe that amplified that moment in my mind.”
Inside Gina’s apartment right after the shooting, “it was like an overload of stimulation. I kinda remember just wishing everyone would leave. There were so many people. There were eight of us, plus our neighbors, plus some other people from the news had stopped by and tried to talk to us. I don’t know how they found us. I had no desire to talk to them. I hate being center of attention, and I didn’t feel like I had anything insightful to say,” she said. “I just wanted go to bed. It was like, ‘I am done with today. Let’s see what happens tomorrow.’ We probably smoked a bunch of weed and drank copiously, and I just passed out.”
“I remember waking up and everyone being in a somber mood. It was kind of like this very surreal, very odd occurrence that was slightly traumatizing had just happened. So we were all like, ‘Let’s go do something commemorative.’ Some of us went and got tattoos,” she said. Gina picked a Romanian flower, to memorialize a European vacation. It’s on her ribcage. “I already had a few flowers, and this one was so cool,” she said. (This led to a discussion about Gina’s other tattoos, which led to another story involving Laura and the aliveness of devotion. The women share a couple tattoos, it turns out. “We got matching compasses to designate a road trip. And we each have a Santa Cruz tattoo. One of my friends drew it. We were in Portland, and we were just hanging out in a friend’s living room, drinking tequila. One of them had a tattoo gun. He was still practicing. He was kind of, like, not a human being who should own a tattoo gun. He was exactly the guy you wouldn’t want to do your tattoo, but that was the guy who did it. I went first, and he never changed the needle, so because of that, we’re all, whatever that is. Blood shared,” she said, searching for the right term. It came soon after: “Blood sisters,” she said.)
Gina spoke little of the shooting in the weeks that followed. “I don’t remember being sad or afraid about it afterwards. It was more like—this was a way out-of-the-ordinary thing that’d happened. But at the same time, I think it’s naive to believe you’ll never be in a violent situation,” she said. “I’d had very little understanding of why the event took place. And even after learning why, I still had very little understanding. I was kind of comforted learning it was not a random bar shooting, that this person was angry with somebody else, there was a reason this person was upset. Better that situation than some random person walking into a room and killing someone. I hate that. That makes me lose faith in humanity,” she said. “We wanted to come back as soon as the bar opened, to be supportive of the business. It wasn’t their fault, and it would’ve sucked if they lost any customers. If anything, I felt like I was more attached to this place and to the people who were there that night.”