Portrait by Kelly Bjork.
Soon after the shooting, authorities cordoned the Twilight Exit and began processing the crime scene. It took all night and the following day. In the case file, a detective described the bar’s interior, with its hardwood floors and “lilac-purple painted walls,” she noted. “Although multiple hanging ceiling lamps were in use, the lighting was fairly dim. There was an open area, presumably used as a performance space for karaoke. A television displaying ‘Sing like a pro’ was hung from a wall above a fake fireplace.” The lounge and dining areas “were in a state of disarray. Tables and chairs were turned over. Laptop computers, cell phones, clothing, and other personal property had been left behind throughout. Half-eaten food and beverages remained on the tables and bar.” Later, when the Twilight’s long-time manager Shira entered the space, “it felt like everything was frozen in time,” she told me. “At one table, it was obvious that someone’s birthday party had been interrupted. That made me so sad.”
“CSI left a mess,” said the Twilight’s owner Stephan in a separate interview. “They’d moved everything that wasn’t bolted to the floor. They dug into the walls. They wanted to be sure they found all the bullets and the casings. They left flags and sticks and measuring-tape stickers over every bullet hole,” he said. In the lounge, authorities recovered bullet fragments from approximately a half-dozen strays. One bullet chipped the tile floor, others left holes in the wood-paneled walls. One shattered a stack of glasses. Another entered the ceiling, nicked an electrical wire, and somehow yanked out a portion of its copper. “Bullets do weird things to stuff,” said Stephan. “The damage was incredible.”
Shira and I skip back to the moments as she was first entering the bar. “There were a couple investigators, and I think there were one or two uniforms, but people were mostly wrapping up, grabbing their stuff, and heading out,” she said. Shira mentioned she’d previously gone to school for forensic science and criminal justice, and “one of my classes was taught by the head CSI guy for Seattle. His name is Brian. I walk into the bar and there he is. He was like, ‘Hey! What are you doing here?’ We had a little conversation, just shooting the shit for a second.” Shira asked Brian about the puddles of blood in the lounge. “I was like, ‘Hey, can we clean this up?’ and he’s like, ‘No. You have to get somebody professional to do it.’ For the disposal or whatever,” said Shira. “The blood and dead stuff doesn’t really bother me. I would’ve rather just done it myself, but I did find a guy like we were supposed to. We googled him. He showed up, he wasn’t wearing an official hazmat suit. It was one of those white painter ones you zip up and buy at Lowe’s. He didn’t even have any shoe coverings. Just his regular shoes. Of course he just mops it up and puts some bleach down. That’s just like what I would’ve done! I wanna say it was around $200 to $250 because I remember haggling with him about the prices, saying you know, it’s really not that much to clean up.”
Before the clean-up guy arrived, Lexi and I stopped into the bar. Apart from Stephan and Shira, the place was empty. Stephan immediately asked if we were going to sue him, and we said we weren’t. (“I didn’t know him, and I wasn’t even thinking about that,” said Lexi.) We’d come to retrieve our jackets and purses. We’d abandoned them when we fled the building the night before. Having no keys, cellphones and money brought obstacles to our following day. In the lounge, I saw the blood on the tile floor where James had fallen. Someone had placed a folded-open newspaper over the pool. These were likely the same pages Lexi had been flipping through as she sat at the counter, just before the shooting began. I hadn’t slept the night before, and everything was strange. When Lexi got her credit card and receipt from the bar, she saw she’d been charged a gratuity for leaving her card overnight. (This was an accident, Stephan later said.) Lexi also grabbed the boots she’d left behind. She’d slid them off beneath Whitney’s body as Lexi was struggling to get away. They were soaked in blood. (“We called them the Sticky Boots. I picked ‘em up, and Shira took a rag to them,” said Stephan.) Lexi went sock-footed the night before, and all day she’d made due wearing cheap footwear a friend bought for her. “They were fuzzy indoor slippers, and they were soaking wet because it was drizzling all day. I was basically walking around in these blue square sponges,” she said.
Throughout our interactions that evening, Shira seemed remarkably grounded. When I asked her where it came from, she attributed a previous job in a funeral home. “I was helping with the services,” she said. “I’d set up or take anything down. I’d help the grieving family, or I’d drive them somewhere if they needed. Things like that. I was in the process of getting my funeral director’s license, but there was this one instance where I decided I just couldn’t do it anymore. This old woman was saying goodbye to her husband. I was standing right next to the casket. She walked up to him, and she said, ‘I’ll see you soon,’” said Shira. “On the job, you can’t cry, and you can’t show emotion, but that just crushed me. It reminded me how my parents were with each other. Both are deceased. After my mom died, my dad died like a year later,” she said, then continued. “There’s a human connection that we can’t see or measure or anything like that, but it’s there, and there are very few instances you can actually see it, but when do, you’re just in awe. I was like, that’s true love, oh my god. It totally creeped me out, and I loved it, but also that’s when I knew it was time for me to go,” she said. “I decided to go into bartending instead.”
We return to the bar the evening after the shooting. After Lexi and I gathered our things and went away, Shira eventually called in another employee, and the two went to work. “I just wanted to hurry up and get done,” said Shira. “We moved all the tables and chairs and mopped and cleaned. We took all the liquor down and gutted behind the bar. We went over everything with brushes and damp rags. We had to be really thorough. We made sure there was nothing to see and nothing to talk about. We wanted to get it back to the same old Twilight,” she said.
Switching gears, I bring up Whitney and James. Shira recognized them as regulars. “They’d been coming in a good while. They always argued. All the time. It’s really sad how things turned out. Obviously he had troubles, and she really knew how to push his buttons,” said Shira. “They’d come in separately. Normally she’d come in first, and then he’d come in after. They never sat together. They’d be silently arguing. They’d be glaring at each other, and no words were being spoken, and then he would leave, or she would leave. And then one would come back. It was like this revolving door of them coming in and out. It was stupid and weird,” said Shira. “But yet they would always take care of each other. If she ended up leaving, he’d pay her tab. Or vice versa,” she said. When the two were ready to make up, “they’d go outside and have a cigarette and talk quietly. Or they’d sit together in Lovers’ Corner,” she said — referring to a counter for two in the lounge.
As Shira remembered James’s interactions at the Twilight, “he was never rude to any of the employees,” she said. Often he’d mention his father’s sports bar. “It’d be like an — ‘I see you. We should be nice to each other. I’m in the industry too. Let’s hang out’ — kind of thing.” Weeks after the shooting, Shira ran into Whitney at a grocery store. She was by herself, said Shira, and “she was moving slow, but she was walking.” They greeted each other briefly, and Whitney described a bag she might’ve left on the scene. That was the last they spoke. According to rumor, Whitney later attempted to patronize the bar, but she was asked by staff to leave.
Stephan’s impressions of James and Whitney were similar to Shira’s. “They’d always be arguing, but I’d never seen them yell at each other. They’d do the silent treatment. They were the quietest fighters ever. I’ve seen her storm out. The first few visits I saw them, I didn’t realize they were together,” he said. Whitney was “really pretty. Really cute. She’d come in in her scrubs and do homework,” he said. James “always wore a gray beanie. I never once saw him without it on. Even when he was working out. I’d see him at the Y, and he’d be wearing the beanie,” Stephan said. “He’d always want to tell me about his problems. ‘My dad’s bar isn’t doing that well,’ or ‘My sister sucks,’” he said. “Once, I saw him getting arrested out front. His car was parked by the bus stop. I guess he came in, trying to get his girlfriend to go home or something. He had his kid in the car out there with nothing but a onesie, and this was January.” (According to the police report filed in municipal court, “there was no child restraint used,” and “the child was lying free in the seat,” and the child was “not dressed for cold weather.” As Stephan remembers, James claimed he hadn’t left his child alone and asked Stephan to procure footage as proof, but the bar’s security cameras were broken, and no film existed.)
The last time Stephan saw James, it was the afternoon just before the shooting. “It was cold but sunny that day. I was hanging out with my son. As we were packing up the stroller to leave, James arrived with his kid. Whitney was already here at the bar. It was probably five or six. I think that’s when all the problems started. They were doing the pouty thing,” he said. “James gave me a bad vibe, but I never thought he would’ve come in here and done that,” he said. Several hours later, police stationed Stephan outside the bar as they processed the crime scene, and he observed authorities transporting James’s body from the building. Stephan’s response was unemotional. “I think they used a white bag, and that kind of surprised me,” he said, when I asked what details stood out. “I’d always thought body bags were black.”
The shooting impacted Stephan in other distinct ways. “My lawyer heard about it and called me immediately. He told me, ‘Don’t talk to anyone. You don’t want to give anyone ammunition to sue you.’ We went through a lot of red tape, with L&I and with the insurance companies. They acted like we’d contributed to what happened, but this could’ve happened anywhere. It was a random occurrence, and it was something I didn’t want people to associate with the bar. Once we heard Greg was going to be OK and all that, we just wanted to make everything go away as soon as possible. When my lawyer said I should stay closed for a week out of consideration, I thought: consideration for who. We opened up right when we could,” said Stephan. “This was a really expensive event for me. The repairs were close to a thousand dollars. We weren’t open that Sunday and the next couple days, so we lost revenue. Plus my insurance went up. They cancelled my liability. They cancelled everything. I had to pay a lot more to get it renewed. We had a benefit for Greg, and I gave him all the profits for the night. All in all, we’re looking at twelve to fourteen thousand. That’s not nothing. I would’ve had fourteen thousand in my pockets that has now vanished.”
Photo Credits: Seattle Police Department.