There were gunshots in the street, right outside of my venue, during my wedding.
I’ve been wanting to write and share more about our wedding for a while now, but it feels inauthentic for me to talk about the wonderful day without mentioning something that I’m still processing.
About 2/3 of the way through our reception, these two women that I have never seen before run into the venue and start talking to a vendor. I see this happen and start to walk over. They look frantic. One of them spots me in my white dress and starts apologizing profusely, but I don’t understand why. I look outside and there’s a stampede of people running down the street. I hear one of the women say “we heard gunshots and are hiding in here!”
I run across the dance floor to find my new husband, Joe. I have no idea what to do—stop the party? Lock the doors? My first thought was “I don’t want this to ruin my wedding.” And maybe that sounds incredibly selfish but in the moment, as the bride, I had spent so much time and money and energy to make this a great day for me, my husband, and my people, and I felt like it was wasted.
Luckily Joe was standing right next to the security guard we hired for the night (a requirement for our venue, since we were serving alcohol). I told them both what the women said and they spring into action. Joe runs across the dance floor to the DJ booth, and our security guard rushed to lock the doors to the venue. The DJ cuts the music and announces that everyone should move to the back of the building and go up the stairs. I’m trying to wait for Joe to come back to take shelter together, trying to tell people to follow the instructions. Someone convinces me that I also need to go with them. I try to walk up the stairs, a little frantic, a drink in my hand. I trip all over my dress. My bridesmaids are next to me, taking the drink and holding my dress. We make it up to the bridal suite where we cram as many people into the room as possible. People are also lining the hallways and stairs.
Most people didn’t understand what was happening, so I explained what I saw before this lockdown happened. My sweet 11-year-old cousin who was my junior bridesmaid is in the storage closet attached to the bridal suite with her aunt, scared and sobbing. That is a moment that is burned in my memory forever. I wanted so badly to comfort her, but I couldn’t even think straight. I needed comforting myself, but I was numb. And I was very worried about where my new husband was, because he hadn’t come up to join us. I knew he had to be downstairs, trying to help corral people to safety, because that’s the kind of person he is. But all I wanted was to know that he was safe.
After maybe 10 tense minutes, we got word that all was clear. The venue was safe, and there were about 7 cop cars out in the street. Everyone starts to leave to go back to the party. Relief washes over me for a moment, and then: dread. The horrible “but what if” creeps into my mind, as well as: I picked this location to have this party, and invited every person I love most in the world to this one place. This is my fault, and my wedding is ruined. And then I’m sobbing.
My bridesmaids are all right there, immediately. Rebecca (my co-MOH) is on my left side, holding my arm, telling me we did all the right things by hiring security, security did his job, the police did their job, everyone is safe, and this is not my fault. Over and over, repeating this in my ear. It was so soothing. Summer is crouched down in front of me, holding my arms, looking at me, telling me we’re all okay. I have no idea who was on my right side, but I know at least two or three more of my girls were huddled around me, showering me with love and comfort. It was exactly what I needed.
One of the groomsmen comes back and tells me that my uncle and cousin were outside when all of this happened, so Joe and my dad had been trying to track them both down. More dread in the pit of my stomach. At this point, I still didn’t know what happened with the shooting: did anyone get hurt? Did they have the shooter in custody? Were my cousin and uncle okay? Did Joe and my dad go outside looking for them during the lockdown?
Everyone was fine, and no one went outside during the lockdown. After what felt like forever Joe shows up to the bridal suite and relief washes over me. My girls get up and Joe sits down next to me. We ask everyone else to go back to the party and give us a moment. I sob into his tux shirt and wipe my makeup all over it, and he holds me. What a fucking rollercoaster to embark on in the first 4 hours of marriage.
Eventually my day-of coordinator brings us cake (what an angel) and comes to tell us what happened, from what she could find out: there was a concert at the venue across the street. A rival of the performer drove by, shot into the air from his car, and drove off. As far as we know, no one was hurt—it was just to spook everyone, and ruin the concert. “And my wedding,” I thought. Our photographers are in the room at this point, and one of them made a joke to lighten the mood about how there is a shooting every weekend in Deep Ellum… this was the wrong thing for them to say to comfort me, because I realized they are right. On Halloween night in 2017, Joe, Summer, and I were out in Deep Ellum with friends, and we heard gunshots in the street while we were getting drunk food on the way home. That’s one way to sober you up quick. I had forgotten all about it. Our photographer’s comment made me realize that the possibility of a shooting had never crossed my mind, not once, while planning this wedding or picking this venue.
And why should it have to cross my mind? Why do we live in a country where mass shootings are so prevalent, where gun access is so easy? That’s a rant of mine for a different day, but it does make me realize why my 11-year-old cousin was so freaked out: they do active shooter drills in schools all the time now. Because it could happen, anywhere.
Eventually we went down back to the party, although I was no longer in a partying mood: I felt like my wedding was ruined. I think a lot of my guests knew that, because I got lots of hugs and sentimental musings from people. By the time we got to our last dance floor dance (Don’t Stop Believing mixed with Mr. Brightside) I was able to let loose and enjoy some of our final moments with our guests. During our last dance, though, that final special moment I got to have just with Joe before the wedding was over, I cried a bit more on his shoulder and talked about it. I talked about it and cried in the Uber to our hotel, and hotel employee that checked us into our room was super concerned about the girl in the wedding dress with the tears rolling down her cheeks.
We talked about it a lot in the days after the wedding. For a while I couldn’t think about our reception without thinking about what happened and tearing up, how our guests felt during the lockdown and after, going down the “what if” rabbit hole. I couldn’t stop blaming myself: we decided to have our wedding there, we invited every person we loved and cared about to one place to celebrate with us, we put their lives in danger. In the months since our wedding, I have talked to lots of our friends and family who were there (or left early) about it. No one blames me or Joe. It wasn’t our fault: we didn’t decide to bring a gun and shoot at the air. Someone else did that. This kind of shit can happen anywhere, at any time, in this country that we live in. It’s horrifying and sickening.
The day after the wedding, my Nana, who’d left early, sent me a text that helped remind me this was not what our wedding was about, and the incident should not overshadow our day:
“Kat, just heard about the excitement that happened after we left. Just know that had nothing, NOTHING, to do with your beautiful wedding. Life is good, and you and Joe have so much beautiful life left to live. Love you both, Nana 💖”
And she’s so right. We had a beautiful wedding: a day filled with love and happiness and joy and all the good feelings. We finally got our wedding video the other day, and I watched it all the way through without even thinking about the incident: all of my tears were happy ones, reliving the best parts of the day. One terrible thing didn’t ruin our wedding.
I can’t wait to share more about our wedding, I just had to get this off my chest first.