DENVER (KDVR) — Two bystanders who said they suffered gunshot wounds when Denver police officers fired shots in a crowded downtown area on Sunday say they are grateful things did not end up worse.
“Now we’re in a situation where we realize how short life is – how short life could be,” said Yekalo Weldehiwet, 26, who said his humerus bone was shattered when he was struck by gunfire.
“It definitely does put into perspective how short life can be,” said Bailey Alexander, 24, who suffered a gunshot wound to her shoulder area.
After gunshots, ‘panic mode hit’
Weldehiwet and Alexander were strangers prior to the shooting, but both had been at the Larimer Beer Hall on Saturday night, although they had never seen each other that night. Weldehiwet had been celebrating at a birthday party for his fiancée’s brother, and Alexander had been barhopping with friends.
Alexander was contemplating purchasing some late-night food from a gyro truck when the gunfire started. Three Denver police officers were shooting at a suspect who had a gun.
“I heard one gunshot. It took a few seconds to register, but I started to feel warmth going down my arm,” Alexander said.
Weldehiwet, who was unaware of the police situation, said he ducked and started running.
“Then we were trying to get into the parking lot, and the next thing you know we heard the second bullet — the second gunshot. It landed right behind my bicep and fractured my bone,” Weldehiwet said.
He said his arm immediately “turned into a noodle.” The pain felt like a “baseball coming a hundred miles an hour that just smashed through my arm,” he said.
Weldehiwet said everyone was running and tumbling over each other. While he was running, he weaved through some cars in a parking lot to assess the situation with his wound. “I’m just glad I took that left turn as soon as I can because If I didn’t, that would have hit my spine or went through my lungs or even my head,” he said.
“You don’t know what’s going on around you. You’re just trying to run, basically, take cover,” he said.
Alexander said she did not know she had been shot at first, but she could feel the blood pouring down her arm.
“I was like, ‘I definitely was just hit,’” she remembered saying to her friend. “Real panic mode for all of us hit,” she said of her group of friends.
“I had no idea where I had been shot, I just felt the blood. I did not know how serious the injury was, even in the ambulance. I had absolutely no idea what my injury was at that point, just kind of focusing on getting to the hospital and figuring everything out,” she said.
Attorney: ‘They were in a mass shooting’
Alexander said she was struck in soft tissue, near her shoulder blade. She said doctors left shrapnel in her shoulder. Aside from the pain and some limited mobility, she escaped any major harm.
Weldehiwet said he will need surgery to install a plate in his right arm, which is currently immobilized. He said he has some sensation in his hand.
The two have hired the law firm Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC to represent them after learning the Denver Police Department fired the shots in the crowded area.
“It’s a miracle that they’re still alive, that they were in a mass shooting, and they survived it,” said Crist Whitney, one of the attorneys. “We would say it’s a million-dollar wound.”
Whitney said he is hoping for transparency from the police department after recognizing six bystanders suffered various injuries as a result of its officers’ actions.
Attorney Siddhartha Rathod confirmed that his firm filed a complaint of officer misconduct with the Denver Police Department, which will guarantee the body camera footage will be released within 21 to 45 days under Colorado law.
“The officers shot into a crowd, and you know, that’s not only dangerous, that’s absurdly reckless,” Whitney said.
Denver Police claim ballistic evidence lacking
Weldehiwet said he had been interviewed by police officers while he was in the hospital, but he was unaware that a police officer may have caused the injuries when he asked if police had caught the person who shot him.
“To find out the next day that it was actually the police, and the suspect had not fired anything at all, at that moment, I felt unsafe. For them to shoot in a mass crowd like that with uncertainty — it blew my mind. That kind of spiraled into asking a bunch of questions as to why they did that,” he said. “I am angry. I am frustrated. I am in pain. I am all of the above for sure.”
Alexander said she didn’t know that police had fired their weapons until she saw a news story.
“I just hope that justice comes, and these police officers take accountability for what they have done,” she told the Problem Solvers.
“It’s very scary that we go downtown to have a good time, and you see police officers downtown watching out for everybody, and you expect them to keep you safe, but then the exact opposite happens. This happened so quickly, lots and lots of questions do arise after figuring out something like that,” she said.
During a Wednesday press conference, Denver police said a current lack of ballistic evidence prevents them from confirming that police bullets struck any victims.
“I can’t say specifically,” said Matt Clark, a DPD commander. “There are through and through injuries, so we don’t have ballistic evidence to compare. It’s possible that one of the rounds that hit another object sent debris or something into motion and struck somebody too and caused an injury.”