COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – A 28-year-old transgender man who was always eager to make people laugh is one of five people killed when a gunman opened fire at an LGBTQ nightclub late Saturday, his parents say.
Daniel Aston was a bartender and entertainer at Club Q, where his parents would join in the cheers at his shows.
“He lit up a room, always smiling, always happy and silly,” Sabrina Aston told the Associated Press.
Sabrina Aston said her son enjoyed the club because it gave him a safe place to be himself and he liked helping the LGBT community.
“We are in shock, we cried for a little bit, but then you go through this phase where you are just kind of numb, and I’m sure it will hit us again,” she said. “I keep thinking it’s a mistake, they made a mistake, and that he is really alive.”
Arrest made, motive being investigated
Police identified the gunman as Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, who was arrested within minutes of police arriving at Club Q.
“The motive is still under investigation,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers told NBC’s Today show Monday. “It has all the trappings of a hate crime. But we need to look at social media, we need to look at all kinds of other information that we are gathering from people who know he individual.”
Suthers said the district attorney will file court papers Monday to allow law enforcement to talk more about Aldrich’s criminal history. And he said resident of his city are rallying behind the club and its patrons.
“We are a community in mourning, but we are a community that is determined to makes sure that the actions of a lone gunman don’t define our community,” he said.
Heroic patrons ended bloodshed
At least two patrons who intervened, preventing further injuries and likely loss of life, were called “heroic” by Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez. One of them grabbed a handgun from the suspect, hit him with it and then held him down until police arrived moments later.
“Had that individual not intervened this could have been exponentially more tragic,” Suthers told The Associated Press.
Of the 25 people injured, at least seven were in critical condition and some were hurt trying to flee, authorities said. It was unclear whether all of them were shot, police said. Suthers said there was “reason to hope” all of those hospitalized would recover.
With the Club Q shooting, 2022 has already surpassed 2019 for the most mass killings with firearms in a year in the U.S. at 34, according to the AP/USA TODAY/Northeastern University database.
WHEN WILL IT STOP?: LGBTQ community, Pulse survivors react to Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs
Violence lasted just minutes
Authorities were called to Club Q, a cherished safe spot for the LGBTQ community in the conservative-leaning city, at 11:57 p.m. Saturday with a report of a shooting, and the first officer arrived at midnight, officials said.
Joshua Thurman, 34, said he was in the club with about two dozen other people and was dancing when the shots began. He ran with another person to a dressing room where someone already was hiding. They locked the door, turned off the lights and got on the floor but could hear the violence unfolding, including the gunman getting beaten up, he said.
“I could have lost my life – over what? What was the purpose?” he said as tears ran down his cheeks. “We were just enjoying ourselves. We weren’t out harming anyone. We were in our space, our community, our home, enjoying ourselves like everybody else does.”
Colorado Springs, a city of about 480,000 located 70 miles south of Denver, is home to the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Olympic Training Center, as well as Focus on the Family, a prominent evangelical Christian ministry that lobbies against LGBTQ rights.
The group condemned the shooting and said it “exposes the evil and wickedness inside the human heart.”
‘WE ALL FEEL SHOCK AND GRIEF’:Colorado Springs community mourns Club Q shooting victims
Authorities believe Aldrich, who is currently in custody and being treated for injuries, acted alone. A law enforcement official said the suspect used an AR-15-style semiautomatic weapon in the attack, but a handgun and additional ammunition magazines also were recovered. The official could not discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
In an interview with 9News, a television station in Denver, Colorado, Vasquez said the suspect’s mother is not cooperating with law enforcement and the suspect was injured when two club patrons confronted him.
In 2021, Aldrich was arrested after his mother reported that he threatened her with a homemade bomb and other weapons, police said. Though authorities at the time said no explosives were found, gun control advocates are asking why police didn’t try to trigger Colorado’s “red flag” law, which would have allowed authorities to seize the weapons his mother says he had.
Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric intensifies
Drag events have recently been a key focus of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and protests. Opponents, including politicians, have proposed banning children from attending drag events and have falsely claimed that they are used to “groom” children.
In June this year, 31 members of the neo-Nazi group Patriot Front were arrested in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and charged with conspiracy to riot at a Pride event.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who became the first openly gay man in the U.S. to be elected governor in 2018, called the shooting “sickening.”
“My heart breaks for the family and friends of those lost, injured, and traumatized in this horrific shooting. I have spoken with Mayor (John) Suthers and clarified that every state resource is available to local law enforcement in Colorado Springs,” Polis said. “Colorado stands with our LGTBQ community and everyone impacted by this tragedy as we mourn.”
On Sunday, Polis ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff for five days on all public buildings statewide starting Monday to honor and remember the five victims. A Pride flag will also be flying at the state capitol for the next five days.
TRANSGENDER DAY OF REMEMBRANCE: LGBTQ community honors at least 32 trans people killed in 2022
Another shooting rocks the US
The United States has seen a number of high-profile shootings this year, including two massacres in Buffalo, New York, where 10 Black people were killed, and Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were killed in May.
Saturday’s shooting is the sixth mass killing this month and brought back memories of the 2016 shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which left 49 people dead and 53 injured. The attack at the Pulse nightclub was the second deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Colorado has experienced several mass killings, including at Columbine High School in 1999, a movie theater in suburban Denver in 2012 and at a Boulder supermarket last year.
PULSE NIGHTCLUB ATTACK: ‘Keep dancing Orlando’: Five years later, Pulse nightclub shooting survivors seek to embody strength of LGBTQ community
How to help Club Q shooting victims
Colorado Healing Fund, a nonprofit that gives people a secure way to donate to the victims of mass casualty crimes in Colorado, recently activated to collect funds specifically for the Club Q shooting victims and families.
You can submit a donation online at coloradohealingfund.org or through the Colorado Gives website.
You’ll have the option to give a one-time or recurring donation and can also give the donation in honor or memory of someone else.
Contributing: Susan Miller, Cady Stanton, Jorge L. Ortiz and Rick Jervis, USA TODAY; Sarah Ann Dueñas, USA TODAY NETWORK; Erin Udell, Coloradoan; The Associated Press