DENVER — “I felt like I got hit with a baseball at 100 mph,” Yekalo Weldehiwet said Wednesday, his casted arm — with a bullet still embedded in his skin — hanging across his chest.
Weldehiwet, a data analyst who was born in Ethiopia and moved to Colorado from Eritrea, was one of six bystanders, not including a suspect, injured in a police shooting early Sunday morning in lower downtown Denver.
“Friday night was my fiance’s little brother’s birthday, so we went out trying to enjoy and have a good night for him. It was his 23rd birthday,” he said. “The night was going well and we were having fun.”
They said goodbye to some friends at the Larimer Beer Hall, located at 2012 Larimer St., and left the building.
“And literally in a snap of a finger, it all went sideways,” he said.
They heard the first gunshot.
“We ducked and started running,” he said. “As we were entering the parking lot in the back of Beer Hall, I heard a second gunshot.”
He immediately felt the pain in his arm.
That evening, around the same time Weldehiwet left Beer Hall, Denver police officers spotted a man who had a firearm in his hoodie pocket and then refused to comply with police demands, according to a department spokesperson. The man struggled to remove the gun from his pocket and while holding the gun, pointed the muzzle at officers, police said during a press conference Wednesday. While he did not have his finger on the trigger, police believed their lives, and possibly others’, were in danger and opened fire on the suspect a total of seven times between three officers, DPD Commander Matt Clark said.
The suspect, who was later identified as Jordan Waddy, 21, was hit multiple times and remains in the hospital. Weldehiwet and five others were also injured by either officers’ gunfire, ricochets, or other debris.
Just after the shooting, Weldehiwet hid between a couple cars. There, he realized he had been hit by a bullet.
He was escorted to police nearby, who ripped his shirt to expose the wound. He was transported to a hospital emergency room via ambulance, which was carrying other injured people.
At the hospital, it wasn’t immediately clear if he would need surgery or not. One doctor told him the bone could likely heal on its own. But Weldehiwet sought a second opinion, where a doctor said he would need surgery because his humerus bone was shattered.
“The bullet is still in there,” he said. “Hopefully when I have my surgery on Thursday, they’ll be able to take it out.”
During his stay in the ER, an officer with the Denver Police Department interviewed him and told him they had found the suspect. The officer also “made it out that it was the suspect who did the shooting,” he said. Later that morning after he went home, he learned that the gunfire was actually from police.
“That’s when a rise of questions came up,” Weldehiwet said. “Why would they do this? Why would they shoot into crowded places? Are they even trained to do what they did? Why wouldn’t they care for the public rather than only care for themselves? Isn’t that their job?”
Weldehiwet acknowledged that being a police officer is a difficult job, but it needs to be done correctly. Nobody died in the police shooting, but somebody could have, he said.
“It could have been the end for me, and that’s what’s mind-blowing to me,” he said. “If I was a second from turning, that could have been my lungs, that could have been my head, that could have been my spine. So I’m definitely grateful to just go out with a broken humerus bone. But I’m grateful to be alive today.”
Weldehiwet said he’s focusing on healing both mentally and physically, and trying to sleep through the night and process what happened. He said he’s not sure he’ll ever visit the LoDo area again because of how traumatized he feels.
He said he’s thankful to have friends and family through the process. He’d usually rely on playing sports to relieve stress, so recovering without physical exercise will take a toll, he said.
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