Last Friday, Sam Cassidy was on his way to northeast Minneapolis' 331 Club when he saw the flicker of strobing lights. Police and ambulance, by the look of it. There was some kind of commotion.
A couple of friends were headed that way already, so they brought him up to speed. It was Hix, they said. He’d been shot.
Cassidy has played music with Aaron “Hix” Lee, best known for strumming, plunking keys, and singing for the Red Daughters, for about a decade. As long as Cassidy’s known him, Lee has always been ready to record as long as he wasn’t already working. The nickname “Hix” comes from when Lee was a little kid, and his brothers used to call him, adorably, “Hickory Walnut.”
Lee’s musicianship aside, his true gift is making the world love him. There’s an exuberant affability to his personality -- a certain indiscriminate openness -- that endears Lee to strangers almost instantly, Cassidy says.
“Once you meet Hix, you’re friends with him,” he says. “There’s not much area in between that.”
It had been a mugging. Lee and his girlfriend, Katie Szczepaniak, had been walking home when a car had reportedly pulled up beside them. A man with a gun jumped out and ordered to hand over their wallets, which they did… but the mugger turned around and shot Lee in the gut anyway.
Szczepaniak had been able to conceal her phone during the stickup, so she called 911 and got him to the nearest hospital. As soon as Cassidy heard, he headed that way too, and proceeded to wait in the OR. Hours passed, and it became clear that Lee would be in no shape for visitors that night. Cassidy headed home.
The bullet had hit him just below his navel. It shaved off a bit of his colon and cut a vein in his abdomen. It then found a home in his leg. His Gofundme page says it will be there for the rest of his life. Lee underwent three surgeries to reconnect the circuitry that allowed blood to return to his heart. By Saturday night, he had finally stabilized. By Sunday morning, he was awake.
He seemed like himself, Cassidy says, if a little groggy. He was already “cracking jokes” and asking questions. An update to the Gofundme says that the first thing out of his mouth when he awoke was “I hate this room.”
“Sunday was definitely a relief,” Cassidy says.
It wasn’t the only unexpected ray of hope after a dark night. The Gofundme page set up to pay for Lee’s medical expenses -- he’s uninsured -- has already raised $38,000. The original goal had been $20,000, and it has been raised to $100,000.
“It’s hard to say you can expect to get that much money for anything, really,” Cassidy says. But that’s the kind of person Lee is. He smiles, tells a joke, and instantly makes himself beloved to the room. The fundraising page is full of comments imploring “Hix” to heal quickly and come back swinging.
There has been no thought as to what Lee’s fellow musicians will do without him in the meantime. Cassidy didn’t say whether they will play in his absence. It’s too soon after the shock of it all to contemplate the future.
“We just want him to be okay,” Cassidy says.
You can donate to Lee’s medical fund here.