I Smell Gunpowder: Shooting at Asian Bistro (First Hand Account)

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I Smell Gunpowder: Shooting at Asian Bistro (First Hand Account)

Kole Lavoy, Photo Editor

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A trench-coated figure strolling down the street stopped and fired 19 shots with an AR-15 into Asian Bistro in Hillcrest on Feb. 12th. With bullets aimed high and patrons ducking low, nobody was physically injured. Felon, Stefano Parker, is facing 374 years in prison.

 

About 20 minutes after the shooting, the suspect was detained.According to CBS on Feb 13th, “Witnesses at the scene described the suspect as a heavy-set black man wearing dark clothing, possibly a hoodie. A man matching that description was found nearby the discarded clothing shortly after the shots were fired.”

 

Later that week, on Feb. 15, Parker, 29, faced charges for being a felon in possession of a firearm, discharging a firearm, and 11 counts of premeditated attempted murder.

 

Interestingly enough, I know I saw more than 10 other people in the restaurant when I was dining there that night.

 

“It is miraculous that no one was injured,” stated Deputy District Attorney Paul Reizen after the arraignment.

Following the shooting, Police are still figuring out if the incident was a hate crime, which is defined by the FBI as a “criminal offence against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias…” Hillcrest is well-known for its welcoming and LGBTQ-inclusive environment. The incident is also following the vandalism of a historic LGBTQ monument and flagpole on Feb.11, 2019. That same day trucks drove down University Ave. and passengers yelled out homophobic slurs at the open air bars around 2nd and 3rd Ave.

 

Prior to the shooting, Parker made some alarming posts to Facebook. He wrote on Jan 31, “Who told all these gayfers it was safe to come outside…..?” Though there were no hate crimes filed against him, Reizen reiterated that if there is any evidence that the crime was directed towards the restaurant, patrons, or LGBTQ community, charges will be pursued.

 

Parker, a transplant from Alabama, had a previous conviction of homicide and had served time in prison. Reizen said he had no further information on the criminal history of Parker.

 

That Tuesday night, just as I would every Tuesday night, I sat in my usual seat in the back corner of the bistro. About the time it took me to drink half my glass of water was how long until bullets began penetrating the restaurant. The attack took under a minute, at around 7:30 p.m., for our lives to be shaken up. My very first thought was, “Why is it so loud in here?!” I covered my ears and looked to the front of the restaurant and saw the glass fall out of the door and fly to the back of the restaurant. Puffs of smoke coming off the disgusting mustard yellow colored walls and holes being ripped through the artwork, which was already due for a replacement. It must’ve been 3 or 4 shots until I knew to get under my table. I fell to the floor just like they taught me to during active shooter drills in high school. I thought those drills were pointless. I also thought I didn’t learn or remember anything from high school. I also thought I would never be in a shooting.

 

Once silence finally struck, we all waited for footsteps to enter the room, walking through the galaxies of broken glass. Thankfully, the man never did try to finish the job by reloading his AR-15. I lifted my head when silence fell over the room. I saw that glass from the door everywhere, people’s entrees spread across the walkway. I saw a couple holding each other so tightly, I don’t know if they’ve ever felt such strong intimacy before. I glided my hands across my legs and torso. My ankle was wet, I didn’t know if it was blood or the glass of water I was drinking. I felt blood drip down my forehead and I pulled a piece of glass about the size of my pinky nail out of my brow. None of us knew if anyone was shot, much less ourselves. Then someone finally spoke up after what felt like hours.

 

Our terrified young waitress yelled out that we flee out the backdoor. We ran upstairs to some quiet apartments and I sat on hold with 911 for three minutes. Once I was on the phone with the operator I realized I was the only one with the clearest mind to fix the situation. I kept asking everyone if we needed a medic, no one knew. We didn’t know if we left someone downstairs bleeding to death.

 

Police came quickly and had us wait in the kitchen. We then waited for two hours for detectives to evaluate the scene and interview each victim. In that time, we were a family. We only had each other to process the terror that would haunt us.

 

“There were about five shots, then a pause giving us enough time to use our tables as shields,” Autumn Howard, the closest person to the front of the restaurant, said. Howard added, “Then he just kept shooting…I lost count and held my best friend’s arm.”

 

Alyssa, Autumn’s friend, said, “I couldn’t stop thinking about my two kids and what it’d feel like to be shot and not come home to them.”

 

Nick Mossman, 47, who sat in the back corner of the Bistro, recounted saying to himself during the incident, “Why are there fireworks and why are they so ridiculously loud?” He covered his ears before realising he needed to shelter him and his daughter behind their table. He still had blood on his brow, the glass from the front of the restaurant projected nearly as fast as the bullet itself had hit his face, as well as his daughter’s.

 

One man over 50, whose name I did not catch, was sitting next to me left to identify the suspect before I could speak to him. When we waited for police to arrive I recall him saying, “I heard the first shot and knew we were being shot at and threw myself onto the ground.” He was the only person the knew what to do, where we were all dumbfounded by the noise at the start. When visiting the scene, I saw two bullet holes in the back of his seat. If he hadn’t known bullets were spraying the Asian Bistro, those bullets would have probably killed him.

 

The bond we survivors had was amazing. We joked to lighten the mood but we still gripped each other’s hands tighter and fiddled our thumbs faster when a haunting silence would cloud the room just as the gun smoke had. We never got each other’s names until after we said our goodbyes.

 

After recollecting myself the days following, I decided to read Parker’s Facebook. I wanted to see the face of the man that faced me with a rifle.

 

What was fascinating was a post he made mere hours before his bullets met my meal. This post spoke about obstacles and the journeys in life. “For me, I feel like my childhood interpretation of freedom has been much trampled and a bit destroyed,” he wrote. “So my process to grasp a personal understanding of freedom, to regain freedom, may be of a somewhat of a different approach then the approaches used by others.”

 

Premeditated, constructive, and destructive thoughts.

 

He concluded thought, “Don’t get this post misunderstood.”

 

Following the incident, I have experienced multiple episodes of sensory overload when a loud noise happens near me. In these moments everything goes black and I throw my hands over my ears, just like I did at dinner. I don’t know when the episodes will end. I have received calls from a San Diego Detective and a Victim Advocate who are periodically checking on me and the other survivors. They have offered trauma and PTSD therapy to the victims for free.

 

I am thankful I am not injured or dead, and that I didn’t witness someone else in poor physical health either. I cross my fingers that lightning doesn’t strike twice and that this will never happen to me again. I can only wish no one would ever have to witness such a thing again.

 

 

Don’t be misunderstood.

 

If you are struggling with trauma, PTSD, or destructive thoughts I encourage you to reach out.

 

Visit pleaselive.com for a master  list of free hotlines to call that are available 24/7 that are also completely confidential.

 

If you don’t know where to start to seek help dial 2-1-1 to be connected with the National Human Service Call Center.

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I Smell Gunpowder: Shooting at Asian Bistro (First Hand Account)