The mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs has shaken the LGBTQ+ community in Colorado and across the country. As the full scope of the massacre becomes clear, so do the stories of survival and bravery. Stories of terror that will never leave those affected. The Advocate spoke to two of them.
They thought their friend Tara, or DJ T-Beatz, was spinning somewhere else on Saturday night, so Gil Rodriguez and Felicia Juvera didn't intend to go to Club Q. The venue became their destination when they learned that Tara would be providing the music for the night there after all. It was the first time they had been to the venue since before COVID-19 broke out — they had gone to an LGBTQ+ Pride celebration at the club.
Rodriguez, Juvera, and two friends, Josh and Sal, arrived at Club Q around 11, Rodriguez tells The Advocate.
"Vibes were great," he says. "It wasn't super packed yet like it normally is. There were about 50 people there enjoying themselves."
As midnight began to approach, Juvera says she was chatting with two bartenders from whom she had ordered drinks for the group.
"I was having conversations with the bartender who was bringing drinks back to our table and just having friendly conversations at the bar," she says.
As Juvera, 35, returned to the table where Rodriguez, 32, and the other friends were seated, she thanked the bartenders for a free drink they had given her.
"They were so friendly," she says.
Suddenly, Rodriguez says, he heard a loud gunshot that he first thought was part of the loud hip-hop music playing. Moments later, he says, he smelled gunpowder, and the six-year U.S. Air Force veteran knew what he had to do.
"Everyone kind of had a confused look on their face," he says. "But I'm an Air Force vet of six years, and I did a six-month tour in Qatar for deployment. So I know the difference between the sound effect and an actual gunshot, especially from a rifle."
Stunned, Juvera says that confusion turned into panic and terror.
"I just remember suddenly smelling this burnt odor," she says.
"I immediately smelled the gun smoke from the second bullet," Rodriguez says. "My adrenaline just kicked in, and I just flipped the table that we were sitting at and used it as cover."
He continues, "Then I just yelled that everyone in the club would get down, and then everyone knew I was serious."
He says that people started diving to the floor and seeking cover.
"I looked to my left and pulled Felicia down," he says. "I pushed her head down on the floor to ensure that, you know, she wouldn't try and look and see what's going on."
While praying and covering her head, Juvera says she noticed another individual hiding beneath a pool table when she looked to her side, and the terror on their faces was evident.
The only thing on Rodriguez's mind was putting as much distance between the gunman and his girlfriend as possible when he felt a ricocheting bullet hit his foot.
"I felt a bullet ricochet off my foot, which led me to believe that the shooter was looking in our direction, and I immediately jumped on Felicia to shield her from any other potential bullets coming in our direction," he says.
In the beginning, Juvera and Rodriguez were unsure how many people were shooting. It sounded like a gunfight.
"I thought it was multiple people because that's how many shots we're getting [fired]," he says. "It almost felt like a gang violence attack. I thought it was multiple people shooting at each other. That's how many shots were fired in the club."
At some point, the gunshots stopped, and Rodriguez called 911. His call log indicates the time was 11:57 p.m.
"I was just yelling to the operator, you know, that we needed lots of help because after that point, people were screaming, and people were crying," he says. "So I was telling the operator, you know, we needed as many — I just told them shots fired — we needed as many police and ambulances on the scene as possible because I knew there was going to be multiple people injured with as many shots as went off."
As people lay on the ground dead and dying, loud music continued to play, he says.
"I couldn't hear what the 911 operator was telling me because the music was still playing during this entire time," he says. "So I did another [visual] scan, real quick, to make sure he wasn't looking at us or like reloading. So I ran up to the DJ booth. I turned the music off, and then I could actually have a conversation with [the dispatcher]."
In response to the emergency operator's questions about the shooter, he had no answers.
"I just was more worried about, you know, getting people on scene as soon as possible," Rodriguez says.
According to Juvera, somebody had already propped open the back door of Club Q. Confused and unknowingly shot in the leg, Juvera made her way out the door.
"I went out there as Gil was next to me, figuring out whatever to do with the DJ booth, and I walked out of the back door," she says. "I saw blood droplets through the snow, and I looked up, and I just saw an individual, at the time not knowing who it was, laying on their back."
She continues, "And so I ran over maybe about three feet away, and I just — it was our DJ friend, Tara, just laying in the snow."
Juvera says Tara had been shot in the back, bleeding, asking for help, and unable to move. Juvera tried to reassure their friend that help was on the way. She says she could hear sirens arriving in the distance, but Rodriguez had gone to help other people, and at that moment, she could only hold Tara's hand. The time was midnight.
Rodriguez says that when he made his way back to Tara and Juvera, the magnitude of what had happened began to dawn on him.
"I was accepting the situation," he says. "But at the same time, Felicia was holding our friend Tara's hand, just trying to make her feel like she wasn't alone."
He says there was blood everywhere and that he saw a woman who had been shot in the face, holding her jaw together with her hand. He says another woman was shot twice in the arm and had a jacket soaked in blood, and she was trying to contain the hemorrhaging.
As he was evaluating people's injuries, other patrons still inside were wrestling with the suspect toward the entrance of a side patio, he says. He couldn't get a good look at what was going on, however, and says that he made his way toward directing first responders to injured patients. The time was 12:02 a.m.
"When they came to the back, they asked if we could please help get [victims] away from the building to the parking lot," Juvera says. "So we could facilitate and help them and drag our friend and the other girls through the snow to get to a more clear [area] away from the building."
She says that they could put their own needs aside at the moment because the adrenaline rush they received was controlling their actions.
"I think that's what kind of allowed us just to put everything aside, you know," she says. "You just kind of focus on what was at hand, you know, just dealing with helping those who weren't able to help themselves."
Juvera says it wasn't until later that she realized she'd been shot.
"When we left the scene, I told Gil that my leg was burning," she says. "That's when I pulled my pants down, and I had a graze wound on my thigh. I didn't even realize that when we were, you know, actually there and helping people."
Juvera and Rodriguez say Tara had to have surgery but didn't have any spinal injuries.
"Luckily, the only thing the bullet hit was her appendix. So they just took it out," Juvera says.
"But it's so unfortunate that the bartenders with whom I had had such light conversation didn't make it. It's devastating."
Despite not being LGBTQ+ themselves, Juvera and Rodriguez say many of their friends are, and before Saturday, they often enjoyed a night out at LGBTQ+ venues.
"We love that community, and while we are not part of it, we support it," Rodriguez says. "It breaks my heart and makes me so mad that this would happen here to a community we love or anywhere in this country."