Waves of grief wash over Deanna Van Scyoc, changing her mood day to day, minute to minute.
A sudden “bang,” the sound of gunfire on the TV or a social media post reminding her of her friends, Daniel Aston and Derrick Rump, bring Van Scyoc back to the night a year ago when she hid for her life, crouched under a pool table in Club Q and watched a shooter spray bullets across the dance floor where she once felt safe and free to be herself.
For 12 minutes and 21 seconds, she relayed the horror to a 911 dispatcher as she put pressure on a friend’s chest where a bullet had struck him.
Almost a year has passed since Nov. 19, 2022, when a normal Saturday night turned deadly at a beloved LGBTQ Colorado Springs club filled with regulars there to catch up and strangers who came to dance, drink and play pool.
Five people were killed and at least 18 more were injured by bullets, debris or shattered glass. Life for survivors has been forever changed by the hate-filled attack. And the community still mourns the loss of a rare haven in a region with a tumultuous history for embracing the queer community.
For Van Scyoc, 49, the past year has been filled with therapy and phone calls with friends and survivors to help remind her she is not alone.
Club Q was her second home, where she went several times a week to host trivia, listen to karaoke or watch drag shows on the weekends. On slow nights, she sat at the bar talking about life with a close-knit group of regulars who felt like family.
The night of the shooting, she had just finished playing pool and was minutes from heading home, when a woman she had never met before asked her to play another game. Instead of closing her tab at the front of the club, where the shooter walked inside wearing tactical gear and carrying an AR-15, she ducked for cover behind the pool table.
She met that stranger again for the first time since the attack in late June, outside a courtroom in downtown Colorado Springs, moments before the shooter pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.
“She ran over and gave me the biggest hug and said, ‘Thank you, you saved my life.’ I said, ‘No, I didn’t save your life, you saved mine,’” Van Scyoc said. “She gave me the biggest hug I’ve had in a long time.”
The sentencing hearing marked the end of one painful chapter for victims’ families and survivors, but for many, the path toward healing has just begun.
Through the heavy sadness, Van Scyoc can see the way the attack has bound her community together.
“Senseless acts of hate aren’t going to change who we are. They’re not going to make us hide,” she said. “Our community is still going to thrive and that if anything, this has actually made us stronger.”
“We are more resolute. We are more impassioned than ever to stand up and speak out to protect each other.”
☀️ OUR RECOMMENDATIONS
To mark one year since the attack, Club Q is holding a ceremony outside the building at noon Sunday to remember the two beloved bartenders Aston, 28, and Rump 38, and Raymond Green Vance, 22, Ashley Paugh, 35, and Kelly Loving, 40.
Aston’s parents, Sabrina and Jeff, are expected to attend, as is Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado Springs Mayor Yemi Mobolade.
After, the survivors and families of those lost in the attack will tidy up the memorial space outside of the club, which has been shuttered since the shooting. On Monday, Transgender Day of Remembrance, a vigil and call to action will honor the lives of Loving and Aston at noon at Acacia Park at 115 E. Platte Ave.
Trying to fix “a very broken system”
Rainbow teddy bears, colorful pins from Club Q’s drag performers, handwritten notes from friends and other mementos clutter a shelf inside Ashtin Gamblin’s home in Colorado Springs, reminding her of the love and support she felt in the year since the shooting.
Near the edge sits a pair of rainbow-colored sunglasses she wore the last night she stood at Club Q’s door before the shooter shot her nine times in the arms and breasts.
“That was a safe space for me, that wasn’t a job. I got paid to hang out with my friends,” she said Thursday, remembering the random shimmy or twerk she did with the bartenders when she would catch their eyes from behind the bar.
Now, she likes to stay busy working from home, volunteering for VictimsFirst, a nonprofit helping victims of mass shootings, and taking care of her two dogs — Trigger, a German shepherd, and Balto, a husky — and five cats.
The U.S. has a history of once the media attention stops, the world stops to care.
— Ashtin Gamblin, Club Q survivor who was shot nine times while working the door
“I am one of those people that’s never been able to, even with funerals, take a lot of time off work because I just sit in my thoughts,” said Gamblin, 30. “I’d much rather distract myself.”
She’s trying to “fix a very broken system,” advocating for more mental health resources in the community and getting better training for first responders who work at LGBTQ hate crimes, like using a person’s correct pronouns and avoiding deadnaming someone, she said.
“The U.S. has a history of once the media attention stops, the world stops to care,” Gamblin said. “And there are many things with Club Q that should be vocalized, that we need to fix.”
“Why is this community that was in its space actually attacked? We were in our own space, but what laws could have helped us?”
The attack also put a pause on her and her husband’s plans to start a family. The couple wanted to start trying for kids when he was scheduled to come back from his deployment, a week after the shooting.
“There’s a lot of hesitancy with me,” she said, explaining her fear of the potential gun violence inside a public school system. “I don’t know that I want to bring a child into this world just to shelter them from things because of my fear.”
For John Arcediano, the past year has been a slow shedding of an old self he felt he lost the night of the attack and embracing the new person he is becoming.
After a 15-year career in the restaurant industry, public spaces with large crowds are now triggering for him. When he steps into an unfamiliar place, his eyes dart toward the nearest exits and he maps out a safety plan.
On the night of the attack he was on the patio, where he rarely spent time while at Club Q, when he heard three distinct pops and assumed it was the stereo system malfunctioning. As he walked toward the front door, he made eye contact with the shooter and froze. A bullet ricocheted off the door before glass exploded on him.
“The best way to describe being a survivor is being stuck in that moment for the rest of your life and never being able to climb your way out of it and catch up with the rest of the world,” said Arcediano, 36. “The rest of the world kept moving after the incident, but we were all stuck in a moment in time and we’ve been playing catch-up ever since.”
He has since moved into a new advocacy role with nonprofit Community Health Partnership, working with others to bring more resources and create more inclusive and safe spaces for LGBTQ people in Colorado Springs.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Arcediano remembers feeling supported by the pride flags fluttering across the city and displayed in people’s homes and front lawns, and then grew disheartened as he watched people tear them down.
So at the end of the day, how can you heal in a space that is already not accepting of your lifestyle and is criticizing you every step of the way? And the answer is, it’s hard. It is really hard.
— John Arcediano, Club Q survivor
“It created a really big controversial divide, specifically in the Springs community between the supporting and the not supporting,” he said, “and because we have such a conservative-valued city, it’s really created a culture that the queer community here does not feel comfortable.”
“So at the end of the day, how can you heal in a space that is already not accepting of your lifestyle and is criticizing you every step of the way? And the answer is, it’s hard. It is really hard.”
Last month, staff of Club Q announced the club will reopen at “The Q” inside the Satellite Hotel in southeastern Colorado Springs. An opening date hasn’t been announced.
Local bars have welcomed the queer community, but Van Scyoc is still looking for a space to fill the hole Club Q left and a place for the LGBTQ community to call their own.
“In the end, Club Q was just a building. It was the people that made it what it was, but not having what was a safe space to just openly be ourselves and be together — I think that is the hardest part,” she said.
“When a queer community loses their queer space, going into straight bars never feels the same. No matter how welcoming they are, it’s still just not the same.”