StoryCorps: For A Survivor Of One Club Shooting, Orlando Brings Bitter Memories Sixteen years ago, a gunman stormed a Virginia gay bar, killing one and injuring others — like Joel Tucker. That terrible night still haunts him, even more now in the wake of the Orlando shooting.
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For A Survivor Of One Club Shooting, Orlando Brings Bitter Memories

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For A Survivor Of One Club Shooting, Orlando Brings Bitter Memories

For A Survivor Of One Club Shooting, Orlando Brings Bitter Memories

For A Survivor Of One Club Shooting, Orlando Brings Bitter Memories

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/483406285/483587909" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

A crowd of over 200 people gathered outside the Backstreet Cafe in Roanoke, Va., for a candlelight vigil in memory of the shooting victims. Josh Meltzer/The Roanoke Times hide caption

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Josh Meltzer/The Roanoke Times

A crowd of over 200 people gathered outside the Backstreet Cafe in Roanoke, Va., for a candlelight vigil in memory of the shooting victims.

Josh Meltzer/The Roanoke Times

Joel Tucker and Gordon Blake used to hang out at a gay-friendly bar in Roanoke, Va., called Backstreet Cafe. Tucker was there, in fact, on a night in 2000 when gunman entered the bar and opened fire.

The shooter had set out that night with the intent to kill gay people — and he did, killing one man and injuring six other people.

"I was with my then-partner, just got off work. My back was to the door. And this guy walks in with a trench coat," Tucker recalls. He spoke with Blake on a recent visit with StoryCorps, just days after a gunman's attack claimed 49 lives at an Orlando nightclub popular with the LGBT community.

The man in the trench coat ordered a beer, as Tucker remembers, and sat down at a table behind him and his friends. The man took in the scene, noting Tucker's friend Danny Overstreet and several others — then after he saw two men hugging, says Tucker, "he pulled a 9 mm [pistol] out of his coat and just started shooting."

Overstreet was killed that night.

Joel Tucker and his friend, Gordon Blake. StoryCorps hide caption

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StoryCorps

Joel Tucker and his friend, Gordon Blake.

StoryCorps

"And I reached behind my back because I felt a stinging, and there was blood all over my hand," Tucker says.

He was taken to the hospital. The trouble was, at that time Tucker was not out as gay, and the media tried contacting him while he was there.

"I was so paranoid and scared that I said something that I wish I would've never said, and that was that I was not gay and I was straight and I was there with my girlfriend."

That's not all. He says they put his address in the newspaper, too. After that, his paranoia followed him home. "Oh my God," he'd think to himself, "someone is going to shoot me through the window because they know exactly where I live."

Tucker says he returned to work with the bullet still lodged in his back.

The shooter later pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and six counts of malicious wounding. He is now behind bars, serving four consecutive life terms.

But when Tucker saw the news about the shooting in Orlando this month, his painful memories of that night at Backstreet Cafe 16 years ago came flooding back.

"My heart went out to those people so badly. When I think about all these people that are dead because of them just enjoying their life — and I think about all those people that are laying in those hospitals and suffering — you have got to be strong," Tucker says. "Don't let something like this ruin your life because it could've ruined mine."

And that is a sentiment his friend Gordon Blake shares.

"I've known you for a long time, Joel, and I know it's difficult for you to share. But this was one person who hated. And I have seen hundreds of people who love," Blake says.

"And I think love wins."

Audio produced for Weekend Edition by Jasmyn Belcher Morris.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.