CINCINNATI -- When Angel Higgins hit the floor of Cameo Night Club, gritting her teeth against the pain that radiated from a bullet wound in her left leg and struggling to regain her footing amid the crush of fleeing, panicked club-goers, she had only one thought: I can't die in this club.
"All I was thinking about was my kids," the mother of five said Monday. "'Am I going to make it up out of here with my kids?'"
Higgins was one of about 200 patrons sent stampeding out of Cameo early Sunday morning when, according to her, a scuffle between two groups of men turned into the largest U.S. mass shooting of 2017.
One person was killed, according to police, and Higgins and 15 others were injured. She said the conflict escalated from a fist fight to a gun battle in a matter of seconds, leaving her and the other patrons crawling over one another to reach the exit safely.
"One guy punched someone, and then it just led into a big brawl," she said. "As soon as the shots fired, everybody just started dropping, running."
She felt one bullet fly past her face, she said. Seconds later, another struck her in the leg. That shot traveled up her leg and stopped in her pelvis, where it was still embedded Monday evening; she collapsed to the ground.
"I fell and everybody was just diving on me, falling on top of me, and all I thought was, ‘I cannot die by getting smothered by all these people,'" she said.
She made it out of the club on her own two feet, but had to drive herself to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center while police and firefighters used ambulances to support those victims who were more severely injured. Higgins and 15 other patrons had been shot but survived; one man, 27-year-old O'Bryan Spikes, died of his injuries.
Higgins received treatment at the hospital and spent Monday resting, she said. She scheduled surgery in two weeks to have the bullet removed from her pelvis. In the interim, she'll have time to contemplate the events that led to her injury.
Although Cameo had posted a sign on the door stating that no guns were allowed in the venue, Higgins said she thought it was likely that some patrons had been allowed inside without a proper check. Police also said Monday they were investigating that possibility.
"When I walked in, all they did was look at my ID, flash the light and told me to go ahead," Higgins said. "So they were letting people in from paying. If you pay the extra money, you get in, period. Without checking."
Jay Rodgers, the club's owner, said reports of people being allowed into Cameo without a security check on the night of the shooting are false.
Higgins said she thought she heard the sounds of three different guns inside the club, meaning the chaos may have been from more than one shooter.
Police had not made any arrests as of Monday night, and Higgins said she was still struggling to process what she had experienced.
"All I can hear is gunshots," she said. "I don't know what to tell my kids."
For WCPO's complete coverage on the Cameo nightclub shooting, visit wcpo.com/cameo.