Marquis Williams remembers making it to the door when he turned around and couldn’t find his girlfriend.
The 28-year-old began screaming her name as gunshots rang out from the gaming bar they were just inside in Jacksonville, Florida, his worst fears unfolding, when he finally saw her — planted on the floor outside the exit.
“Bae, I can’t walk or run,” his girlfriend, Taylor Poindexter, 26, had said. “My ankle doesn’t work.”
Fortunately, Williams was able to get to her in time and carry her to safety — an act of heroism he said was “an automatic reflex.”
The couple, who grew up in the South Side of Chicago, returned home safely Monday morning, a day after another contestant in a professional “Madden NFL 19” video game tournament opened fire inside a gaming bar with a pizzeria, killing two people and wounding at least nine others before dying from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Neither Williams nor Poindexter expected anything more than a fun weekend when the two avid video gamers signed up for the tournament. Williams is a paraprofessional for kids with autism and Poindexter is a dietitian.
The two said that as Chicago natives who survived a mass shooting, politicians should be cautious to dangle Chicago’s gun violence in response to this week’s renewed calls for gun control.
“I just think it’s amazing — being born and raised in Chicago and throughout our lifetime hearing about the crime going on, but we never were placed in a situation where we had to run out of an establishment to save our lives,” Poindexter said. “It takes us going to a gaming tournament in a totally different state away from home.”
On Sunday afternoon, online viewers from across the gaming community were cheering on players while following a livestream of the competition. The tournament turned into bloodshed, however, as a torrent of gunshots followed by panicked voices punctured the scene.
The couple had been buying pizza at the bar’s restaurant when they heard what sounded like a balloon bursting, Williams said. But after remembering there were no balloons nearby and seeing a gunman about 30 feet away, the two scrambled to an exit.
They were both trampled in the process, Williams said. After ensuring he and Poindexter made it out, they eventually took refuge inside a bathroom until police rescue with about 10 others, including a small child.
“My first thought was, ‘Where’s Marquis, is he okay? Is he out?'” Poindexter said. “And when I saw him, it was like a big sigh of relief.”
Poindexter was admitted to a hospital briefly with a sprained ankle and Williams suffered minor scratches to his legs, they said.
“It could have easily been us,” Williams said. “How long is it going to take and how many lives have to be lost for legislation to take hold for some type of gun control?”
As of Monday afternoon, President Donald Trump has yet to respond publicly to the tragedy. The FBI is conducting an ongoing investigation into the suspected shooter, 24-year-old David Katz of Baltimore, who reportedly had a history of mental illness.
Though the couple is still processing Sunday’s incident, they won’t let the tragedy ruin their love for gaming. As long as there’s tight security next time, they’re open to returning to another public video game tournament, they said.
But, they did have a message for politicians, including Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner: “If you really are the politicians of people that you say you are, you will do your best to help us in this situation,” Williams said. “No excuses.”
Rauner, who faces a re-election challenge from Democratic billionaire J.B. Pritzker, has signed gun control bills this year in the wake of deadly high school shootings in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas. Among new laws approved by him is “red flag” legislation to temporarily confiscate firearms from owners who are at risk of harming themselves or others as well as a mandatory 72-hour waiting period to buy guns.
But the incumbent has drawn criticism from state Democrats earlier for shutting down a bill last March to tack extra regulations on gun dealers.
Williams had even sharper words for Trump, who has often painted Chicago as a gang-infested war zone in his tweets.
“Republicans like to bring up Chicago as their counterpoint,” he said. “My counterpart to the Republicans would be, ‘What about Aurora? What about Texas? What about Parkland? What about Charleston? What about Sandy Hook?'”