COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The assailant who opened fire at an LGBTQ nightclub just before midnight Saturday, leaving five people dead and 25 injured, was subdued by someone who grabbed the shooter’s handgun and hit him with it, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers told the New York Times on Sunday.
Authorities have credited patrons at the club with confronting and disarming the gunman, preventing further injuries and likely loss of life. “We owe them a great debt of thanks,” Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said, calling those who intervened “heroic.”
The person who took the gun away was holding down the perpetrator when police arrived minutes after the attack began, Suthers told the newspaper. Police said the shooter used a long rifle, and that at least one other firearm was found at the premises.
A suspect was taken into custody about five minutes after police first received a 911 call, Vasquez said. Those who were injured were taken to several hospitals, and at least seven were in critical condition Sunday evening, according to authorities.
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.
Police identified the suspect as Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, and said they believe he acted alone. Aldrich was being treated for injuries; police offered few other details.
A man with the same name and age was arrested in 2021 after his mother reported he threatened her with “a homemade bomb, multiple weapons and ammunition,” according to authorities, who did not confirm whether that man is the same person as the suspect in Saturday’s shooting.
No explosives were found, authorities said at the time.
On Sunday, authorities were looking into whether to prosecute the attack as a hate crime, according to El Paso County District Attorney Michael Allen, who said charges against the suspect “will likely include first-degree murder.”
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In a statement on its Facebook page, Club Q called the shooting a “hate attack” and said it was “devastated by the senseless attack on our community. Our … thoughts are with all the victims and their families and friends.”
“We thank the quick reactions of heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack,” said the statement by Club Q, which describes itself as a dance and nightclub.
Joshua Thurman, 34, said he was dancing at the Club Q when the shots began but at first thought they were part of the music. He knew better when he heard another shot and said he saw the flash of a gun muzzle.
Thurman and another person rushed to a dressing room, where they joined a third person in locking the door and hiding while the chaos unfolded.
“I could have lost my life – over what? What was the purpose?” Thurman 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.”
A prominent Colorado lawmaker is snapping back via social media at a congresswoman for the state in the wake of the Colorado Springs shooting.
After newly reelected Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert offered her condolences on Twitter to victims of the attack and called for an end to “lawless violence,” state Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, a Democrat and co-founder of the Colorado LGBTQ Legislative Caucus, urged Boebert to “do better.”
“You’re part of the problem. Maybe try to be a better Representative to all of your constituents who are stuck with you,” Esgar tweeted, pointing out that Boebert has publicly criticized the LGBTQ community. In June, Boebert tweeted: “Take your children to CHURCH, not drag bars.”
In an interview on MSNBC later Sunday, Esgar said that while she is shocked by the fatal shootings, she isn’t surprised given the hateful rhetoric escalating across the country.
“Putting those kinds of messages out there, folks need to understand that people are listening to that rhetoric and they are taking action upon themselves,” Esgar said.
“We need to do better,” Esgar concluded. “And we need to be better.”
Shooting brings back memories of dark days in Colorado
Suthers and several members of the City Council joined a standing-room-only crowd for a vigil at the All Souls Unitarian Church on Sunday, making it clear the city doesn’t want to take a step back in its relationship with the LGBTQ community.
David Dahlin, vice president of philanthropy for the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, also was in attendance and said: “We are just devastated by this. I have lived here 33 years and I am a member of the LGBTQ community and we have made progress.”
Dahlin added that Colorado became known as the hate state in 1992 when Amendment 2 passed, prohibiting the government from protecting gay rights. The U.S. Supreme Court later struck it down, Dahlin said, paving the way for the legalization of gay marriage.
“We have a lot of good things in our community. It’s an amazing place and we don’t want to go back to that reputation. This (shooting) is like a giant step in the wrong direction,” Dahlin said, tearing up.
— Tracy Harmon, Pueblo Chieftain
Natalee Bingham, 25, received a FaceTime call from her friend Kelly Jen as Jen entered Club Q at 11:48 p.m. Saturday.
Jen, who is transgender, doesn’t go out much and was excited to show her friend her outfit — a black top, black skirt, and freshly colored red hair. She told Bingham she was going to get a drink at the bar, then head outside to smoke a cigarette, and said she would call her later.
Eight minutes after that, police received the first 911 call about an active shooter in the club. Bingham hasn’t heard from her friend since, and fears Jen was one of the victims in the shooting.
Bingham, who also identifies as transgender, said Club Q is a popular hangout within the LGBTQ community and is considered a “safe space” among her peers. Bingham, who lives in Denver, visited the club in the summer and said it draws patrons from both Colorado Springs and Denver.
“It’s crazy to think people still have this hate in their heart in this day and age,” she said.
Macie Loureiro, 27, told USA TODAY her brother, Luca Loureiro, was hosting a monthly “Drag Divas” event at Club Q on Saturday night when the shooting occurred. She said Luca was backstage just after the show when he heard gunfire and hid with other performers. He was not injured.
“Normally, it’s a great place to just go with friends and be able to be yourself and really have everybody celebrate in that,” Macie Loureiro said.
“It’s devastating because it was an attack on a family – beautiful people who just wanted to go and have a safe place to hang out and be themselves,” she said. “We’re not going to have that anymore.”
Colorado Springs, a city of about 480,000 about 70 miles south of Denver, has seen growing acceptance for the LGBTQ community in recent years, including more LGBTQ restaurants and spaces like Club Q, according to Macie Loureiro.
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The club had been prepping for a drag brunch Sunday, according to its Facebook page, and said it would be celebrating Transgender Day of Remembrance Sunday “with a variety of gender identities and performance styles.” The day of remembrance honors the at least 32 transgender and nonbinary people killed this year by violence, and it caps Transgender Awareness Week.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, the first openly gay man elected as governor in the U.S., expressed his gratitude for the “brave individuals” who confronted the gunman during the shooting
“This is horrific, sickening, and devastating,” Polis tweeted. “My heart breaks for the family and friends of those lost, injured and traumatized in this terrible shooting.”
On Sunday, Polis ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff on all public buildings statewide for five days, 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.
President Joe Biden weighed in as well, offering prayers for the “senseless” tragedy. “While no motive in this attack is yet clear, we know that gun violence has a particular impact on LGBTQI+ communities across our nation,” he said on Twitter, adding. “We cannot tolerate hate.”
A mass shooting on June 12, 2016, at an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida, left 49 people dead and 53 injured. The attack at the Pulse nightclub was the second deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
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Contributing: Thao Nguyen, USA TODAY; Eric Larsen, Fort Collins Coloradoan; The Associated Press