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Club Q survivor who was shot in the back recounts Colorado shooting

Ed Sanders, 63, a regular at the club, had stopped by for a drink on the night of attack. He was shot in the back.

Balloons are reflected in the window of Ed Sanders's hospital room on Nov. 22. Sanders is a survivor of the Club Q shooting. (Ross Taylor for The Washington Post)

COLORADO SPRINGS — If there was ever a regular at Club Q, Ed Sanders was it.

The 63-year-old retiree spends multiple nights a week at the Colorado Springs gay bar — he’s a consistent face on the patio, where he has met hundreds of people during bingo nights, drag shows and spontaneous conversations. So after attending an LGBTQ Snow Ball in Denver on Saturday night, he swung by for a rum and coke nightcap before heading home.

Minutes later, he was on the floor, a bullet lodged into his back. Next to him was the woman he recognized as Kelly Loving. They had never talked before, but she was a familiar face — and he tried to spring into action. “She was shot pretty badly,” he recalled from his hospital bed, “and her eyes were glazed over. She could hear, but she couldn’t breathe.”

Sanders had partially fallen on top of her but managed to cover Loving in his red velvet jacket. It was a special outfit he had worn for the Denver ball, where he was representing the United Court of Pikes Peak Empire — a long-running local LGBTQ group — as its prince royal. “I knew that to help is what you’re supposed to do if you’re able,” he said, “and I did what I could.”

The wounds in his back kept him from getting up, Sanders says, but a drag performer nearby joined in comforting her: Stay with us. We’re here for you. You’re going to make it. Police soon arrived and carried her out.

Loving was one of five people to die in the deadly attack. More than a dozen others, including Sanders, were injured.

Had another patron not stopped the shooter, Sanders says the attack could have been far worse. “That man saved us all,” he said.

The community he has loved for decades — one that has loved him back — will remain strong, Sanders says.

“Things will go on in Colorado Springs for us,” he said. “I think we’re going to do fine.”

For LGBTQ community, Colorado Springs shooting meant ‘safety betrayed’

Growing up in Missouri and then moving to Phoenix, Sanders did not come out until he was 23. (He adds that his mom, who has always been supportive, knew much earlier when she found his stash of pornography. “I thought it was cute that she knew,” he said, chuckling.)

But, he says, not everyone in the LGBTQ community has found the same kind of support — particularly not in Colorado Springs. He has joined protests against efforts to limit gay and trans rights.

“I try to be a mentor. I try to be a friend, especially to the young kids, because they need that,” he said. “A lot of them don’t get it at home, and so I try to have that spirit myself.”

A handful of the thousands of “golden friends” he met at the club over the years streamed into his hospital room Tuesday evening, wearing rainbow T-shirts and hats and carrying a bouquet of flowers. His infectious-disease doctor — Sanders is HIV positive — stopped by, too. “Miracle I’m still shaking hands,” he told one visitor.

Mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado

What we know: The suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, will be formally charged at a hearing today. Aldrich is accused of fatally shooting five people and wounding 17 others at a Colorado Springs night club last month. Records show that Aldrich changed his name at age 15, obscuring a tumultuous past.

Remembering the victims: Officials on Monday identified the five victims killed in the Colorado Springs shooting. Their names are Daniel Aston, Raymond Green Vance, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh and Derrick Rump. Here’s how to help family members of the victims and survivors of the Club Q shooting.

Stopping the shooter: An Army veteran who was at the nightclub to celebrate a friend’s birthday with his family disarmed and subdued the gunman. Here’s how the Club Q shooting unfolded.