Portrait by Kelly Bjork
At the time of the shooting at the Twilight Exit, Lauran was in her mid-twenties, worked in retail, and lived in Colorado. She was in Seattle visiting her former college roommate Taryn. “She’s easy to talk to and super nice,” said Lauran. The city was largely unfamiliar to Lauran, and she and Taryn spent a couple fun days exploring. “We hung out. We went to the market. We ate donuts,” she said. “We went to bars and stuff.” On Saturday, one night before the shooting, Lauran and Taryn had a bizarre encounter with a hostile stranger, but “that was back when everyone was saying YOLO, and we had that mentality, like: I survived, I can do whatever.”
The women had gone to a bar and met two guys. “We’d had quite a few drinks, and they were all like, ‘You should come back to our place,’ and we were like, ‘OK, whatever.’ We went with the guys to a townhome. The guy who invited us barely knew the guy that lived there. We didn’t realize that until we got there. The guy that lived there was insane. He came out, and he was like, ‘Why are you in my space. I don’t even know you. What are you doing here.’ He was big and buff and he was getting really angry. We did not want to get on his bad side. He almost beat up one of the guys we’d come with, so that guy left. We had no idea where he went. Taryn and I were like, ‘We gotta get outta here.’”
After they left the townhome, they faced a new set of problems. They were lost, for instance, it was late, they had no car. Their friend was missing, and it seemed there was nothing to do but wander the identical-looking streets in search of him. Suddenly, a pizza-delivery man pulled up. “He’d been to the same townhome. He’d done a delivery there, and he must’ve seen us leaving or whatever. He was like, ‘That guy was crazy. Do you need a ride?’ and we’re like, ‘Oh my gosh. Yes. We don’t even know where we are right now,’” said Lauran. The pizza man even helped find their missing friend, and then he brought them all to his pizza place. From there, everyone made it home easily.
The next day, the women filled their schedule with deliberately mellow activities. “We didn’t have any plans, and that was fine. The whole night started out with me and Taryn literally eating ice cream and watching Girls. Then Taryn’s friend Laura called and was like, ‘You should come out with us,’” and so Taryn and Lauran went to Laura’s apartment, where they socialized with Laura’s many guests. When nighttime approached, Lauran and several other women walked to the Twilight Exit in a group. Lauran was delighted to encounter the bouncer Greg when she entered the building. She’d met him the night before, where he was working security at a different bar. “It was like, I know that man. Seriously—what are the chances. One of the girls we were with had a weird picture on her ID or something, and that’s how we made the connection. When he saw it he said, ‘Oh my gosh, you guys are the same ones from before.’ We were totally like, ‘We’re your best friends now!’” said Lauran.
Lauran and her group assembled in the dining area. “We literally got there like five or ten minutes before everything happened. We’d just sat down at a giant table, a little bit inside the door. We were chatting, waiting for some other friends to get there. We hadn’t made any decisions about food or looked at drinks or ordered or anything. I didn’t even take my coat off,” she said. When James shot Greg in the alleyway just outside the building, Lauran heard a popping sound she assumed at first was a balloon. Shortly after, a girl came in screaming. Everybody freaked out. It was all downhill from there. I remember seeing the guy come in with the gun in his hand and he literally just walked straight ahead to the bar. He didn’t even look left or right. You could tell he was on a mission. He had a plan. I had no clue who he was. I thought he was just some crazy dude coming in. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. This is probably a mass shooting.’”
“Everybody was screaming and diving on the floor. People started moving tables and chairs, throwing them over and stuff. It was definitely the scaredest I’ve ever been. I had this feeling, like, ‘I don’t want to see what’s happening, I don’t want to see it coming, I don’t want to look at it straight on.’ I got on the floor behind a table. I made myself get still. It’s like when you’re playing hide-and-seek, and you’re being as still as you can. You revert to things from childhood. You don’t know what else to do, so you hide your face. It’s like—if you shut your eyes, then no one can see you,” she said. “My head was down on the ground, my hands were up over my head. I was telling myself, ‘Stay down. Oh shit. Don’t let him see you.’ I was crouched into fetal position. You know, I could’ve been in the middle of the room with a spotlight on me. I didn’t know any better,” said Lauran.
“People were screaming to call 911. I’m obviously a bad person in these things because I didn’t reach for my phone. That’s something I feel a little guilty about. What if nobody else called 911, and I was supposed to call, but I didn’t. I didn’t even try. I didn’t even try to, like, call for help. I was more concerned about not moving. I was paralyzed, so I was not even going to help anybody. My thought was, ‘Clearly other people are calling, and I’m sure someone’s got it under control.’ That was the only time where I could’ve done something to stop it, but I was like, ‘I’m just gonna worry about myself right now,’” she said.
As Lauran huddled in the dining area, “I remember hearing another one or two gunshots and not knowing where he was or what he was shooting. Then it was quiet for a second. Then I was like, ‘I gotta do something. I can’t just stay here.’ I finally got the courage to look up. The furniture must’ve gotten pushed out of the way when everyone else was leaving. There were no tables, no chairs around me. I was out in the open. I was so exposed. I’d been trying to hide even though I wasn’t hidden at all.”
“Getting out was a blur,” she said. “That was my first time in the bar. The building had a weird shape. All I knew was the one door we’d come in through, and there was no way I was going in that direction. I didn’t want him to see me. Some girl behind me—I don’t even know who—she was like, ‘There’s a door back there.’ I crawled all the way to it. You wouldn’t have even known there was a door where it was. It just looked like a wall of windows,” said Lauran. “As soon as I hit the pavement, I got up and Taryn was there and we started running.1 She turned to me and was like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re bleeding.’ In the whole insanity, I got a busted lip. I don’t remember exactly how. Probably from a kick or a chair or something. People were literally climbing over me, trying to get out of there. My lip was bleeding. It was pretty gross actually.”
As the pair ran away, “we didn’t feel safe. We didn’t know the situation. We didn’t know if he had more people with him that were gonna shoot us outside. I had no clue what was going on or where I was. I wasn’t sure where we were going. I tried to turn and run down a side street so I’d be less exposed, but Taryn shouted to keep running straight,” said Lauran. She and Taryn continued to Laura’s place, which was only a couple blocks away. “I remember getting there and hearing more gunfire. We all looked at each other like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I just assumed it was the cops going in,” said Lauran. I asked whether she felt the police responded fairly. “I wasn’t there, so I can’t be like, ‘They totally did the right thing.’ I can’t get in on this feeling,” she said.
At Laura’s apartment, Taryn and Lauran shared the space with multiple guests. Everyone stayed up late, the mood was somber. Lauran ate a bowl of ice cream a neighbor brought over. When it was time for bed, “I got the couch. I barely slept at all. I spent half the night awake, texting my friends from home. I was going over it again and again. I wasn’t sure how it had ended, what his motive was. Not knowing that stuff gives you a sense of insecurity. Like, you feel unsafe. I was terrified the whole night,” she said. The more Lauran thought about James, she reconsidered his intentions. “I’d watched him walk straight towards the bar. At first I was thinking he was gonna be, like, ‘I’ll take care of these people first, then I’m gonna come over here.’ But after being in the dining room so long—even if it wasn’t really that long, but it felt like it was—I didn’t have a sense he was gonna be shooting everyone. If that’s what he wanted, he would’ve started as soon as he opened the door. I think that’s what typically happens,” she said.
The next day, Taryn and Lauran went to brunch with Laura and her friends, and later on, Lauran returned to Colorado as scheduled. “The fact that I didn’t live in Seattle helped me a lot. I could get on a plane and act like it never happened. No one here knew about it, no one here talked about it. I didn’t see it on the news. It wasn’t in my daily life. It affected me, but it was a lot easier for me to come back and push it away and slowly forget about it,” she said. As more time passed, Lauran furthered her recovery by consulting a therapist and speaking openly to friends. “I’m in a good place with it. It still brings up emotions, but I can talk about it and feel OK. I’ve learned to enjoy my family more and cherish the time I have with people. It makes you live your life differently. Any minute something could happen that you had no clue was gonna happen.”
Today Lauran works in a mall as the manager of an OshKosh B’Gosh, a kids wear retail outlet. She enjoys the job, but the setting can trigger anxieties. “We’re right in the food court, in the busiest area. Mall security said it’s the most local place if there’s a mall shooting.2 I do notice I’m a little more on edge if I hear a scream or people running. I’ll turn and look,” she said. “One day security was talking to us about how we should handle a shooting if it happens—like, where it’d probably be, where we should go, what we should do. I was like, ‘You can guarantee I’ll be out the back door. I’ll be no help at all.’ I got a small glimpse of myself in the situation. People aren’t able to think clearly. They freak out and turn around and try to get away. You don’t know how you’re gonna react until you experience it.”
1 Taryn described Lauran in these moments. “She was in boots with really high heels. They made her look tall and spindly,” said Taryn, lovingly. “She literally looked like a deer that’d been in a car accident.”
2 Speaking of, my friend Alithea was present during a 2008 mall shooting in Westfield Southcenter in Tukwila, Washington. She was around 23 at the time and worked at an Urban Outfitters in a different location. “It was a weird day. I was meeting with my aunt and my cousin to talk about whether or not I was going to cut off communication with my dad who was a drug addict. We had this super intense conversation in the Rainforest Cafe, which was already weird. Then we went to Forever 21 so I could buy some leggings,” she said. As Alithea was making her purchase at the counter, shots sounded in the main mall corridor just outside the store’s entrance.
“I dropped my change and leggings and immediately got on the ground. I knew it was gunfire. My aunt and cousin were standing and looking around, trying to figure out what was going on, so I yelled at them to get down. The employee ringing me up went running to the front of the store, then she pulled down the roll-up gate that separated us from the corridor. I often think about that girl. She ran towards the shooting and the chaos so she could keep others safe,” she said. “The staff shuffled me and the other customers into the main dressing-room area. A pregnant lady started having a panic attack or hyperventilating, and one of the managers tended to her. We were guided to the upper level of the store. Upstairs, everything was normal. People were still shopping,” Alithea said.
Later, “they didn’t find the shooter for a while, and that was one of the scariest things about it. He just disappeared. I heard he was spotted on a bus, so as I was riding the bus the next day, I kept looking over my shoulder. I’d never seen the shooter. I didn’t even know what I was looking for.”