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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘I got to come out of this alive’: Survivor of Gorge Amphitheatre shooting details terrifying experience

Campers who attended the Beyond Wonderland music festival Saturday at the Gorge Amphitheatre near George, Wash., are shown Sunday. Sunday’s performances were canceled because of a shooting Saturday night at a campground near this one that left two dead and three injured.  (Garrett Cabeza / The Spokesman-Review)

Days after the shooting that left two dead, one of the surviving victims from Saturday’s campground spree near the Gorge Amphitheatre described how the gunman shot him in the shoulder and then chased him, firing more rounds.

The two victims killed were Brandy Paulette Escamilla, 29, and Josilyn Summer Ruiz, 26, both of Seattle, officials announced Tuesday. Lily Luksich, 20 of Mill Creek, Washington, and Andrew Cuadra, 31, of Eugene, were also wounded.

The shooter was identified Tuesday as James M. Kelly, a 26-year-old from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

From his hospital bed in Seattle, Cuadra, who also goes by August Morningstar, said he ran in a zig-zag line, jumping behind and over tents, and hid behind vehicles to escape the shooter.

“I got to come out alive so I can be there for my daughters,” Cuadra said of his thoughts during the shooting.

Cuadra said Tuesday he was awaiting shoulder surgery at Harborview Medical Center.

Kelly is being held in the Grant County Jail on suspicion of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault and first-degree assault domestic violence, according to Grant County Sheriff Joe Kriete on the sheriff’s office Facebook page. Kelly was hospitalized for a gunshot wound before being taken to jail.

Reports of shots fired inside the campground near the amphitheatre came in Saturday around 8:20 p.m., the post stated.

Beyond Wonderland, an electronic dance music festival, was playing Saturday night at the amphitheatre several hundred yards from where the shooting occurred, said Kyle Foreman, public information officer at the sheriff’s office. The concert continued as planned Saturday night but was canceled Sunday.

Officers responded to Campground H in the northeast corner of the campground area when they learned of the fired shots, Kriete wrote.

Officers found two women who were unconscious and had what appeared to be gunshot wounds, the sheriff said. Both died at the scene.

Grant County Coroner Craig Morrison said Escamilla died from a gunshot to the head and Ruiz died from a gunshot to the torso.

Morrison classified both deaths as homicides.

Kriete wrote that Cuadra and Luksich were taken to local hospitals before Cuadra was transferred to Harborview Medical Center.

A private security officer also was struck by a bullet that deflected off her eyeglasses, according to Kriete. She sustained bruising and lacerations because of the impact, but was not seriously injured.

Cuadra, who attended Beyond Wonderland with two friends, said he saw a woman in distress and heard her say she was going to call the police. Moments later, he said, he heard her say, “You don’t have to do this. Please don’t do this.”

He said he turned around and, within a second or two, an armed man pointed a gun at him.

Cuadra said he tried to move out of the armed man’s line of sight. He said he jumped behind his friend’s tent and then ran away as the armed man , who he said wore a black T-shirt, chased and fired at him. Adrenaline masked the pain of the gunshot wound.

“After that, I just ran harder and zig-zagged as much as I could to try to get out of his sight and try to get to safety or staff to get help,” Cuadra said.

He heard gunshots before he was shot but assumed they were fireworks. He said he did not know why the man shot at him.

“I was in the wrong place, wrong time,” he said.

The sheriff’s office announced around 8:45 p.m. an “active shooter” was at the amphitheatre before saying about 30 minutes later the shooter was in custody.

The sheriff’s office initially advised those at the amphitheatre to seek cover, run, hide or fight the suspect.

Cuadra credited one concertgoer in particular for saving his life by putting pressure on his wound.

Cuadra said the bullet that struck his left shoulder narrowly missed his carotid artery and left lung. He said doctors told him he has a good chance at a full recovery.

“Since it happened, I’ve been taking it lightly that I almost died, and then, yeah, just today it’s been hitting me harder,” he said Tuesday.

Concertgoers described the shooting as “heartbreaking” and “disappointing” on Sunday at one of the camp areas.

Some concertgoers knew about the shooting right away, while others found out Sunday. Some said they learned of the shooting from friends calling or texting to ask whether they were OK.

Most concerts at the Gorge Amphitheatre take place without major issues, but excessive drug use and unlawful gun possession are not uncommon.

Last summer, authorities arrested a man after festivalgoers at the Bass Canyon concert series reported seeing him with a pistol outside the venue. Though he never made it inside, he reportedly had two pistols: one in a holster outside his clothes and another concealed in his waistband. After investigating, authorities said they didn’t think he intended to execute a mass shooting.

Firearms and weapons are not allowed at the campground, according to the amphitheatre’s website.

In 2013, a Paradiso Festival concertgoer died after using methamphetamine and becoming dehydrated, according to media reports. The weekend event led to 70 people going to Quincy Valley Medical Center. The hospital treated 40 to 50 drug- and alcohol-related problems that weekend, a hospital spokesperson told the Wenatchee World in 2013.

Police at the time said use of the illegal party drug molly, also known as MDMA or ecstasy, was responsible for the sharp increase in hospital admissions. Authorities arrested 23 people at the concert that year for various charges, according to a news release from the Grant County Sheriff’s Office.

Two more deaths were reported in 2016, with one tied to drug use.

The North Central Washington Special Investigations Unit is investigating Saturday’s “officer-involved shooting.” Kriete wrote the unit will be the one to give further details about the shooting.

“I want to express my deepest sympathies to the victims, their families, and friends,” Kriete wrote. “This is a tragic incident, and I know that I speak for my staff when I say that we are holding you in our thoughts.”