Illustrations by Kelly Bjork
The night of the Twilight Exit shooting, my friend and coworker Joselynn was across town at a tattoo parlor, getting a pair of commemorative stars inked onto the back of her neck. “Each star is drawn as an outline, and then there’s like a cloud, with wisps of twilight color coming down, and swoopy Asian-style swirls,” she said. “Today I have a few more stars, as I’ve lost more and more loved ones, but I started with my friends Drew and Joe. It was January 27, which is Drew’s birthday. Joe’s is on the 26th. That’s a part of the memorial tattoo—it’s getting the star on their birthday. During the tattoo, I kind of talk about their life and who they were as a person and what they meant to me,” she said.
Joselynn met the guys years earlier through a local circus company. “I was doing some clowning and stilting and character work. Drew was a sword swallower, and he’d put nails and forks in his nose and things like that. He and Joe were best friends, and they were musicians with the circus band. They were also in a band called God’s Favorite Beefcake,” she said. “Getting tattooed was a very emotional experience because they both died in such a violent way. They were murdered at the Cafe Racer shooting the May before,” she said. Soon after Joselynn and the tattoo artist finished at the shop, “I got in my car to go home, and I turned on the radio. It was set to NPR like always, and they were doing a news announcement. That’s how I learned about the shooting at the Twilight Exit. It happened in real time when I was getting tattooed. I remember bursting into tears and being like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ It occurred to me that you go there on Sundays for karaoke. I went into a panic. It was just this really familiar feeling.”
Meanwhile that night, back at the Twilight Exit, medics carted gunshot victim Greg to an emergency room. “The staff were on top of me instantly,” said Greg. “I’d forced myself to stay conscious the whole night, so when they gassed me up on the operating table, it was kind of a relief. I was like, ‘Alright, this is out of my hands now. We’ll see what happens. Either I’m gonna wake up, or I’m not.’ I’m one of the lucky ones, I guess,” said Greg. When he awoke after surgery, “it was like, ‘Holy shit. I’m alive!’ I was very satisfied with that. I was heavily sedated. They’d put me on morphine. They said they didn’t know what the extent of my recovery was gonna be, but lucky for me, I wasn’t really freaking out about any mobility concerns at the time. When you’re faced with the option of death, it’s like you’re willing to make some trades to stay alive.”
In the following days, Greg’s path became increasingly difficult. “Few people have an actual concept of how much damage one single bullet can do,” he said. “My femoral artery had been severed. The bullet threaded the needle through the hole in my pelvic bone,” said Greg, referring to his obturator foramen. “The artery snapped. It was like a rubber band that retracted. They had to fish it out of my leg and reattach it. The first surgery took five hours. They put my leg on ice because it was technically dead. Whenever your tissue has no blood in it, it begins rotting almost immediately. They’d used ice to keep my leg preserved, and they pumped it full of blood afterwards to revive the flesh. Because my leg had gone so long without blood, we were worried about clots. If you have one clot, it’ll kill you. It’ll clog your artery, or it’ll slide its way into your brain. That was a very real concern. So I had to have a second surgery two days after the first one. The doctors went into my calf, and they separated my muscles, pulling them apart—that was a huge trauma—and they literally vacuumed up any clotted blood that had formed,” he said.
Photo courtesy of the Seattle Police Department
Doctors told Greg the bullet came within a couple millimeters of his pelvic bone. “I’m lucky it didn’t hit, because my pelvis would’ve shattered, and I never would’ve been able to walk again, or I’d have to go through years of intense physical therapy,” he said. There were other near-misses. At one point, the doctors feared they’d have to amputate Greg’s leg, and later, his foot. “It had no feeling when I first got out of surgery, but that ended up returning gradually,” he said. Later, as an after-surgery precaution, “they put me on blood thinners. They injected them right into my stomach, and that gave me huge bruises,” he said. Powerful drugs crept into Greg’s routine. Following a two-day morphine treatment, “they switched me to Oxycontin. It did the trick, but I really didn’t want to get addicted,” he said, and early on, “I had to take tons of pills because I was in pain all the time. They told me not to worry about it, that I should focus on getting better and take things as they come. That was a nice sentiment, but I didn’t want to get out of the hospital and have another problem to deal with,” said Greg. As time passed, “I’d try to take as few pills as possible until the pain got too great. I’m glad I held back,” he said.
Soon after Greg’s hospital release, “I had a negative experience with an emergency-room doctor. I’m sure they have people trying to scam them for pills all the time. But when I showed up, I was in agonizing pain. I’d been trying to fight it out just until the pharmacy opened that morning, but it got to be too much, and my girlfriend told me I had to go in. The doctor was a real dickhead. He was telling me he recovered from a skiing injury with no painkillers whatsoever. I was kind of like, ‘You know what. Fuck you, dude. I almost died because there was a psychopath trying to kill people.’ I mean, god damn. I couldn’t walk, I was being wheel-chaired around. I had giant surgery scars all over. It’s pretty easy to see what my case was. It was exactly what I was scared of regarding the whole painkiller thing. If you say you don’t want it, they’ll tell you you need it, but if you say you need it, they don’t want to give it to you.”
With lots of help from his brother and girlfriend, Greg maintained his injuries at home. “I had to pack my wound with gauze. I’d dunk a wooden stick into the bullet hole— it was like a tunnel in my leg—and later, I’d pull out the gauze and try to drain fluid from the wound. I did that twice a day,” he said. His movement was limited, and “it would take me forever to get anywhere. It was maddening. After the wheelchair, I’d switched to a walker. I remember using it to go to the kitchen to get a soda, and feeling like it was this big victory,” he said. “It took three or four months before I was able to wear regular clothes again. Jeans were too constrictive. They’d bother my skin. I couldn’t even wear sweat pants. The material just felt too heavy. I could only wear very loose Adidas track pants and very light fabrics like slacks,” he said. Greg eventually regained his ability to walk, but some injuries lingered. Today, “there are a lot of reminders attached to my body. I have three huge scars now. One by my groin and the other two on either side of my lower leg. My leg is still swollen. It’s a good six inches bigger in circumference than my other leg. I will probably have swelling for the rest of my life. I have to wear compression stockings every day, forever. My circulation will never be the same. The temperature in my leg is lower than the rest of my body, generally. I have numbness in my knees and random pain. I don’t have the same flexibility or mobility. I’m definitely looking at a lifetime of nerve damage, and I’ll have stunted muscle development,” he said. “That’s what’s happening now. Who knows what it’s going to be like when I get older.”
Money issues presented more uncertainties in the months following the shooting. “I was getting some payout, which helped, but it wasn’t enough to live on. My income was at a dead-stop, and I didn’t have significant savings to fall back on. My community threw me benefits, and that helped me get by. It was nice I didn’t have to move back home with my parents and start all the way over,” he said. “The hospital bill was at a half-million dollars last time I asked, but I don’t know the final number. If I hadn’t been at work when I got shot, I would’ve been paying that off for the rest of my life. I didn’t have insurance, but it was all covered through L&I,” he said. “With that, there’s lots of paperwork coming in at once, and you have to be sure you’re taking care of homework. You have to call people and sign stuff and mail things out by whatever dates. You’re all fucked up on drugs. It’s hard to keep up. You’re just physically destroyed. You don’t know if your life is ever gonna be the same. It’s no wonder so many people feel worse off after these major accidents or start abusing drugs or fall into homelessness. I’m lucky I had a support network. I have a lot of people to thank,” he said, then went on. “I’m glad I’m able to move on with my life, and that’s what I want to do. This experience wasn’t like a made-for-tv movie with a nice moral at the end. I was often surprised by people’s behavior on both sides of the spectrum. Some acted in horrible ways, and others were absolutely compassionate and giving. It’s easy to think of ourselves and insignificant and disconnected, when really, the opposite is true. However corny this sounds, it’s very real. You have to know that you matter and act like you matter, because our decisions affect those around us.”
Let’s return to the night of the shooting around the time Greg was undergoing the initial stages of surgery. Meanwhile, in the police station, a couple dozen witnesses were gathered in a room. One by one, a witness would rise and disappear into a closet-sized office to record a statement with a detective. It was taking a while, and a few people complained of hunger. The cops took requests and then returned with a couple pizzas. Several witnesses grabbed slices, and as they were eating, they stood around chatting, transforming the scene. As usual, everyone remembered the experience differently. “The whole room was in jubilation. It was like, ‘Hey! Pizza party downtown!” said Karaoke Steve. “The food took forever, I was starving. I hadn’t eaten dinner,” said Ryder. “It didn’t seem like there was gonna be enough for everyone, so that gave it a weird feeling,” said Christian. “It was nice of the cops to do that. I asked for a vegan pizza,” said Kristin. “I remember the pizza being fucking terrible. I don’t know, I was being really snobby. I was like, ‘I don’t want any of this shit.’ I probably had some anyway,” said Amy. “Pizza in the time of trauma. The entire thing had a resonance to a wake I’d been to, years ago,” said Alan. He went on. “It was for a suicide. It was very somber. The funeral had gone for hours, and there wasn’t any food. And then someone showed up with a big bag of cheeseburgers. There had to be thirty or forty burgers. Everyone was going through their personal difficult stuff, but in the next moment, we were all having to tousle ourselves and get in position to grab a burger before they were all gone. The shitty food brought us solidarity. It was perfect timing, in a way.”
Throughout all this, Lexi and I sat towards the back of the room. We had no appetite for pizza, and we were among the last to give our statements. Lexi complied when a detective collected her sweater as evidence, but afterwards she found the exchange upsetting. “It had a couple spots of blood on the cuff. I don’t understand why they needed it. There wasn’t any question as to who was shot,” she said. “It was a cheap Forever 21 sweater. It was thin, but it was all I had. I didn’t have a jacket, and I didn’t have shoes. They could’ve given me something to keep me warm. It seemed my only option was to go home wrapped in a shitty blood-stained trauma blanket,” she said.
“You and Lexi were sitting right next to me,” said Chris, who was with his long-time partner Kevin that night. “We overheard you telling the police that you didn’t have anywhere to go. I can’t remember the cop trying to come up with any kind of solution. They were saying they usually have taxi coupons. They said, ‘Well, do you have a way to call a taxi?’” said Chris. Lexi and I didn’t, but we couldn’t have paid for one anyway, and we had no keys to get into our apartments. We’d left all our belongings in the bar. As I remember, an officer offered to put us up at the police station, which was better than nothing—though at the time, it gave me a desperate feeling. Chris and Kevin invited us to spend the night at their place, and we took them up. We hadn’t met them before, but they seemed like nice guys.
When it was time to leave the station, the police were “basically sending us out into the night without a car, but luckily I had my wallet, and I paid for the ride with my credit card,” said Kevin. On the way, the guys said they had a couple kittens waiting for them at home. They’d named them Peter Pan and Tinker Bell. “They’re American Tabby Shorthairs. They’re littermates. Brother and sister,” said Chris. “They were born on Halloween. They were three months old, but they were new to us. That was their very first night at our place. We had to buy the crate to bring them home that day. They were locked up in the cage. I’d been wanting to get back to them that whole time,” said Kevin.
Kevin and Chris shared a cozy townhouse, and just after we arrived, Kevin offered us beverages, listing about a dozen options. He heated a couple bowls of home-made soup, then he asked if we needed anything else. Chris pulled out a sofa bed for Lexi and I to share. It was comfy and had Tigger sheets. For a while, we all stayed up talking as the kittens played underfoot. They discovered the plastic emergency blanket Lexi brought home from the crime scene. It’d fallen on the floor somehow, and Pete and Tink zipped over and under the blanket, stopping now and then to bat at the material. “I thought I was gonna lose my mind, and then all of a sudden I had a lap kitten,” said Lexi. “It was so sweet and innocent and cute and little and lovable. You have no idea how much that saved me,” she said. “SPD should give everyone kittens,” said Chris.
Sometime after, Chris headed upstairs to bed, and then Kevin walked to a convenience store to buy tampons, because Lexi and I both needed them. It was an embarrassing favor to ask, but I didn’t see a way out of it. I had no money, and I’d bled through my jeans. When Kevin entered a nearby AMPM, he estimates it was three a.m. “I was just keeping to myself,” he said. “There was a customer there. He was a black guy in his mid-thirties. He kind of approached, but it wasn’t like he was approaching me specifically. He was talking out loud to whoever was listening. He was probably drunk too, or whatever. He said he’d heard about a shooting at the Twilight Exit, and he said, ‘The black people are taking back the Central District.’ He might’ve been joking, he might’ve been serious. It shook me up. I think I felt a small part of guilt. I said, ‘I was there,’ and he apologized quickly.”
The following morning, Lexi and I said goodbye to Chris and Kevin, and we spent the day walking aimlessly through busy neighborhoods. “I was thinking, ‘How are these normal people going on with their lives?’ Mine felt like it was on pause,” said Lexi. “We thought everyone was going to be stopped in the streets, talking about the shooting. It was such a big deal to us, but then it only got like a paragraph in the Seattle Times. It was just another news blurb,” she said. Later that evening, Lexi and I dropped into a bar across town and grabbed a pair of stools along the counter. I felt uneasy to be indoors and in the presence of strangers. I remember glancing again and again at the overhead tv. I was hoping a news story about the shooting would come on. Beside us sat a middle-aged woman in a business suit. She had straight neat hair and wore tasteful jewelry. After a basic hello, it was clear she was extremely wasted. She told us she’d spent the past week holed down with a brand-new sexual partner. “We’ve been going at it, just going at it,” said the lady. “We didn’t stop for a shower until the fourth day,” she said. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I laughed politely, then I turned away.
About two and a half years later, Lexi found herself at an all-night restaurant with her friends. They’d gone to a music show together, and it was after three, she said. “We’d ordered our food, but it was taking a long time. I decided to go out for a cigarette. I was by myself and there were a ton of people standing outside, waiting for tables. I was feeling awkward, so I stood by a bush, and I was picking leaves off it while I was smoking. I only got halfway through, and all of a sudden, I was like, ‘Fuck this cigarette. I don’t want it anymore.’ I’ve never done that before. That was not a normal thing for me to do. I love cigarettes. I went inside, and seconds after I sat down I heard gunfire. I knew it was gunfire instantly. I saw where it happened. All these branches got shot off the bush. I would’ve been standing right there. I would’ve died, but somehow I magically avoided it,” said Lexi. According to an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a 20-year-old woman was shot in the back, and a 30-year-old man was shot in the legs and arm. Neither had life-threatening injuries. “Apparently a guy had shot his girlfriend a few times in the back and then ran out onto the street. Some people waiting outside the restaurant opened fire. They shot down the sidewalk after him,” said Lexi.
Two months later, another Twilight witness Steve and his wife Kristen were sitting in a van in a strip-mall parking lot. It was after seven on a Wednesday summer evening, said Steve. The couple had just finished loading their vehicle with food they’d purchased from the nearby grocery outlet. “We had all these pork loins we needed to get into the fridge,” said Kristen, though they weren’t in a wild hurry. When it was time for a cigarette break, the two stood outside the van, since it was a rental—Steve’s regular car was in the shop for an air-conditioning repair. As they smoked, they chatted happily and took in the surrounding businesses. Steve recalled an Ezell’s Chicken, a marijuana dispensary, and a gas station with a mobile car wash. “We were just kind of hanging out, talking about what we were gonna do for dinner that night. It was our five-year wedding anniversary,” said Kristen. She and Steve were looking forward to the following day. They had plans to join a group of friends on a river-float camping trip.
In the parking lot near their vehicle, “there were like six or eight dudes,” said Kristen. They appeared to be in their early twenties, and they wore jerseys, sideways hats, sweatpants, baggy T-shirts. “They were kind of slap boxing,” said Kristen. “There was obviously a conflict, but it was more like, just dudes being bros. I didn’t feel threatened. In no way did I think it would escalate. Steve was like, ‘Oh, let’s watch this fight,’ but I hate watching that kind of stuff. It was like, ‘Eh, let’s finish this cigarette and get in the car.’”
“One of the guys landed a punch, and that made it heat up even more,” said Steve. “Their voices started rising and got really loud. They were definitely serious. And then one of the guys pulls out his gun and shoots the other guy eight times, point blank. I saw all of them hitting,” said Steve. For a few moments after, “the guy that shot him was pacing around,” said Steve. “I couldn’t hear everything he was saying, but he was talking really loud. I thought he was talking trash. Like, ‘Why did you make me do this?’ or something. He got into a car and they all took off.”
“I’m really glad I never saw the shooting. I heard it, but I had already turned around to get in the car,” said Kristen. When the gunshots sounded, “I’d opened my door and jumped inside. I yelled to Steve to get into the car. He said, ‘Get your phone and take a video.’ All of a sudden I had ten thumbs. It was like, ‘I can’t even unlock this, I don’t even know what I’m doing.’ But I was able to get a video of the car driving away,” she said. “My thought was, I wanted to get out of there. I didn’t know what the situation was. Maybe they were there to kill him, you know. Maybe they were just going to circle around and come back to make sure they got the job done. Who knows,” said Kristen. “I wasn’t really scared,” said Steve. Kristen continued. “It was all so fast and so surreal,” she said. “I guess my response was like a fight-or-flight kind of thing, with the adrenaline. But then Steve was like, ‘I can’t leave. I have to go help.’ And I was like, ‘Shit.’ I was reluctant, but then it became like, ‘OK. I can do this. Like, this is what needs to be done right now. We are in those few minutes before an emergency vehicle gets here, and there’s no one else here,’” she said.
As Steve approached the scene, he noticed “the kid’s friend was on the phone with 911. He was hysterical,” he said. “Steve’s like, ‘Hey man. I’m an EMT,’ and then the friend kept yelling to do CPR, but Steve was like, ‘I can’t,’” said Kristen. “It just would’ve made him bleed more,” said Steve. As he described the victim, “one bullet grazed his arm, and there was a wound in his chest, another one in his side. He was shot eight times, but all the bullets went through and through, so he ended up having 16 holes. He was awake. He was kind of talking to his buddy. His buddy kept saying ‘Hang on. Hang on.’ And then he would say, ‘He’s dying. He’s dying,’” said Steve.
“Steve was up at the kid’s head. I was at his midsection,” said Kristen. “Someone from the car-washing place brought over a slew of clean rags. We put them on the wounds and applied pressure and told him to hang tight. At first, there was one other woman down with me. She was an older lady. She said, ‘I’m cramping up.’ She was squatting, and she kind of fell backwards. I took over where her hands were. I had the abdomen at the front and the back. I thought there would’ve been more blood, but each person has less than two gallons. I remember the cop telling me that later,” said Kristen.
“The victim had sweatpants on, and I felt his pockets,” said Steve. “He didn’t have a gun on him. One pocket was empty, and the other had a debit card, a bag of pot, and his ID. He was 20 or 21,” he said. “The kid was able to tell me his name. I remember seeing blood in the back of his throat. I just remember his face. His eyes were really wide, you know. From shock.”
When the authorities arrived, Steve focussed on technical details. “The cop asked me if I’d seen bubbles coming out of the chest wound. It would indicate that his lungs had been punctured. It’s called a sucking chest wound,” said Steve. “I couldn’t tell because my hand was in the way,” he said. The paramedics showed up shortly afterwards, and “they wore blue see-through plastic gowns—a plastic apron kind of thing. It’s pretty standard for any trauma situation, whenever there’s a lot of blood,” said Steve. “They all had bulletproof vests on under the gown. The fire department does that too. They’ll wear vests if there is a shooting.”
After the victim was wheeled away, Steve and Kristen got cleaned up and went home. They learned the kid made it to the hospital, but he died a couple hours after. The shooter and his brother turned themselves in. The brother was a charged as an accomplice, and later, both were sentenced to decades in prison. In the weeks and months following the shooting, Steve and Kristen struggled with sleep problems, aversions to loud sounds, and general public anxiety. Kristen considered the kid often, she said. “He had strangers helping him. I think that has given me some peace,” said Kristen. “In those last moments, he knew that people were trying to help him.”