Metro Weekly

5 San Diego Gay Bars Targeted In Drive-By Shootings

Police say there's no evidence the pellet-gun shootings, in which people were struck in the face and back, were motivated by anti-gay bias.

Five gay bars in San Diego were targeted by drive-by shootings on Saturday, May 18, with several patrons and workers being hit by non-lethal rounds issued from a pellet gun.

San Diego police received reports of a pellet gun being fired out of a vehicle just after 1 a.m. on Saturday morning. By the following evening, police confirmed that shootings had taken place at The Loft, Rich’s, The Rail, #1 on Fifth Avenue, and PECS — all gay bars located in the city’s Hillcrest and North Park neighborhoods. 

Witnesses claimed the car in the shooting appeared to be a BMW, but police described the car as a newer, black sedan.

In the shooting at Rich’s, Eddie Reynoso, a host at the bar, was standing outside the bar and turned when he heard someone yelling what appeared to be expletives at patrons outside the bar.

He told CBS affiliate KFMB that he saw what he believed at the time to be an AK-47, and heard several rounds being fired off before being hit with either a pellet or a ball bearing.

“I get hit directly in the eye,” he said. ” I feel something kinda like explode almost like something popped. And by then I was already falling to the ground. In my mind, I thought I just got shot through the eye and my eye just flew out.”

Luckily, no permanent damage was caused by the direct hit.

“I’m fortunate,” Reynoso told ABC affiliate KGTV. “A millimeter or two (away) could have led to blindness. If it would have hit the pupil, it would be a different story today.”

Reynoso, who also serves as the publisher of the LGBTQ San Diego County News, which reported on the incident, said that the car from which the rounds were fired appeared to be traveling fast, but slowed down.

He said he saw two people hanging out the window, and thought one of them may have been recording video of the shooting.

“That’s kind of what caught my attention and when I looked at the backseat, I just saw someone holding an automatic gun, and my reaction was to crouch, but by then, it was too late. They had already fired and you could hear the noise, a ‘pop, pop, pop, pop, pop,'” he said.

Other bar patrons and employees reported being hit in the face and on their arms. 

A patron of Rich’s, named Abel, told KFMB he was hit by at least five pellets, calling the incident “traumatic,” but expressing relief that no one was more seriously injured.

Donny Hurry, a security guard at The Rail, said he saw someone shooting out of a car’s back window. The suspect started shooting at him, but he ducked into a building before he realized it wasn’t a real gun. He was hit in the arms and back multiple times but was not seriously injured. 

Izan Corso, a patron at The Rail on the night of the shooting, lamented that the shooting violated a space that is considered a gathering spot for the LGBTQ community.

“This is obviously a safe space,” he said. “So the fact that people can just come in from outside and sort of make it feel unsafe is just unfortunate.”

There is currently no evidence to suggest that the shootings deliberately targeted gay bars, meaning that, if any charges are brought against anyone, it is unlikely that the shooters would be charged with hate crimes.

NBC San Diego also reports that there was a sixth attack, this one involving a man who was hit by gel pellets while walking with his wife in the Old Town section of the city earlier in the evening. That man was not injured, and there appears to be no bias motivation for that crime. 

It remains unclear what the ammunition used in the shootings was.

Police are still investigating the incidents, although NBC reports that authorities believe the pellets may have been fired from an “Orbeez” gun, a realistic-looking water pellet gun, often sold as a children’s toy, that shoots gel pellets at intended victims.

Orbeez guns can be purchased at many retail stores for $50 to $60.

San Diego Councilmember Stephen Whitburn (D-District 3), who represents the Hillcrest, North Park, and Old Town communities, posted a statement to social media expressing concern about the shootings and urging those with information about the attacks to come forward.

“Acts of violence, especially those targeting individuals based on their identity are unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Whitburn said, noting he has asked San Diego police to commit more patrols to the area. “To the LGBTQ+ community in Hillcrest and beyond, please know that you are valued and supported.”

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