A 22-year-old gunman opened fire inside a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing five and injuring 25, before he was subdued by patrons and arrested by police.
Two firearms were found at Club Q after the shooting on Saturday night, according to Police Chief Adrian Vasquez.
According to El Paso County District Attorney Michael Allen, investigators were still determining a motive and whether to prosecute the incident as a hate crime. It is likely that first-degree murder charges will be filed against the suspect, according to the club.
The gunman has been identified as Anderson Lee Aldrich, who was being treated for injuries in custody.
Authorities report that a man with that name threatened his mother with a homemade bomb in 2021. The police declined to elaborate on the arrest. At the time, authorities said there were no explosives found, and the records had been sealed. No charges were filed by prosecutors.
Police were called to Club Q at 11:57 p.m. Saturday after reports of a shooting, and the first officer arrived at midnight.
Joshua Thurman was dancing with about two dozen other people in the club when the shots rang out. He first thought it was part of the music, but then he heard another shot and saw a gun muzzle flash.
According to Thurman, 34, he ran with another person into a dressing room where someone was already hiding. Locking the door, turning off the lights, and getting on the ground, they heard the violence unfolding, including the gunman being beaten.
“I could have lost my life — over what? What was the purpose?” he asked, his eyes streaming with tears. “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.”
According to Vasquez, “at least two heroic people” confronted and subdued the suspect.
“We owe them a great debt of thanks,” he added. Detectives are also investigating whether anyone helped Aldrich before the attack, Vasquez said.
Seven of the 25 injured were in critical condition, authorities said. One police spokesperson said some of the victims were injured while fleeing, but it was unclear if all of them were shot.
As a result of the shooting, memories of the 2016 Pulse gay nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida, which killed 49 people, were stirred. A number of mass shootings have occurred in Colorado, including at Columbine High School in 1999, a movie theater in suburban Denver in 2012, and a Boulder supermarket last year.
Six mass killings have been reported so far this month, following the Uvalde school shooting that killed 21 last year.
The website of Club Q indicates that the gay and lesbian nightclub holds drag shows on Saturdays. The birthday dance party at Club Q will be preceded by a punk and alternative show, followed by an all-ages brunch on Sunday.
As opponents, including politicians, accuse drag events of grooming children, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has been focusing on drag events in recent years.
As part of the investigation of the shooting, the FBI assisted the police, which was briefed to Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The president said in a statement that, although the motive for the shootings is unclear, “we know that the LGBTQI+ community has been subjected to horrific hate violence in recent years.”
“Places that are supposed to be safe spaces of acceptance and celebration should never be turned into places of terror and violence,” he added. “We cannot and must not tolerate hate.”
First openly gay governor elected in the United States in 2018, Jared Polis, called the incident “sickening.”
“My heart breaks for the family and friends of those lost, injured and traumatized,” he said. “Colorado stands with our LGTBQ community and everyone impacted by this tragedy as we mourn.”
A makeshift memorial was set up Sunday near the club with flowers, stuffed animals, candles, and a rainbow-colored heart sign reading “Love over hate.”
Seth Stang learned that two of the dead were his friends when he was buying flowers for the memorial. The 34-year-old transgender man described the experience as similar to being drenched in hot water… I’m just tired of running out of places where we can exist safely.”
According to Ryan Johnson, who lives near the club and was there last month, it is one of only two gay nightclubs in conservative Colorado Springs. “It’s kind of the go-to place for pride,” said the 26-year-old of the club behind a bowling alley and sandwich shop.
Located about 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Denver, Colorado Springs is home to the US Air Force Academy and Focus on the Family. According to the group, the shooting “exposes the evil and wickedness within human hearts.”
Three people were killed and eight wounded when a gunman opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in the city in November 2015.
“Club Q is devastated by the senseless attack on our community,” the club wrote on its Facebook page. “We thank the quick reactions of heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack.”
Kevin Jennings, CEO of a national LGBTQ rights group, called for tighter gun control.
“America’s toxic mix of bigotry and absurdly easy access to firearms means that such events are all too common and LGBTQ+ people, BIPOC communities, the Jewish community and other vulnerable populations pay the price again and again for our political leadership’s failure to act,” he said in a statement.
On the eve of Sunday’s International Transgender Day of Remembrance, when events around the world commemorate transgender people who were killed by violence, this shooting took place during Transgender Awareness Week.
The neo-Nazi Patriot Front of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, was arrested in June with 31 members and charged with conspiracy to riot. In the eyes of some experts, anti-gay rhetoric could be interpreted as an appeal to violence by extremist groups.
A fundamentalist Idaho pastor told his small Boise congregation the previous month that gay, lesbian, and transgender people should be executed by the government, similar to a fundamentalist Texas pastor’s sermons.
Since 2006, there have been 523 mass killings in the U.S. according to the Associated Press/USA Today database.