Authorities said a 22-year-old gunman opened fire inside a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing five people and injuring 25, before he was subdued by patrons and arrested by police who arrived within minutes.
According to Police Chief Adrian Vasquez, two firearms were found at Club Q after the shooting on Saturday night.
El Paso County District Attorney Michael Allen said investigators were still determining a motive and whether to prosecute the incident as a hate crime. The club called the attack a “hate attack.” First-degree murder charges are likely to be filed against the suspect, he said.
Anderson Lee Aldrich, who was in custody and being treated for injuries, has been identified as the gunman.
According to authorities, a man with that name threatened his mother with a homemade bomb in 2021. They declined to elaborate on the arrest. There were no explosives found, authorities said at the time, and records were sealed. Prosecutors did not pursue any charges.
The police were called to Club Q at 11:57 p.m. on Saturday with 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 started. At first, he thought it was part of the music, but then he heard another shot and saw a gun muzzle flash.
Thurman, 34, said he ran with another person to a dressing room where someone was already hiding. They locked the door, turned off the lights, and got on the ground, but they could hear the violence unfolding, including the gunman being beaten.
“I could have lost my life — over what? What was the purpose?” he asked, tears streaming 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.”
Vasquez said “at least two heroic people” confronted the suspect and subdued him.
“We owe them a great debt of thanks,” he continued. Vasquez said detectives were also investigating whether anyone helped Aldrich before the attack.
At least seven of the 25 injured were in critical condition, authorities said. According to a police spokesperson, some of the victims were injured trying to flee, and it was unclear if all were shot.
The shooting brought back memories of the 2016 massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which killed 49 people. Several mass shootings have taken place in Colorado, including at Columbine High School in 1999, a movie theater in suburban Denver in 2012, and a Boulder supermarket last year.
There have been six mass killings so far this month and in a year where the country was shaken by the Uvalde school shooting that killed 21.
According to the website of Club Q, a drag show is held on Saturdays at the gay and lesbian nightclub. A “punk and alternative show” precedes a birthday dance party at Club Q, followed by an all-ages brunch on Sunday.
In recent years, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and protests have focused on drag events as opponents, including politicians, claim they groom children.
Police were assisted by the FBI during the investigation of the shooting, which was briefed to Attorney General Merrick Garland.
In a statement, President Biden said that, while the motive for the shootings was not clear, “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 stated. “We cannot and must not tolerate hate.”
Jared Polis, the first openly gay governor elected in the United States in 2018, called the shooting “sickening.”
“My heart breaks for the family and friends of those lost, injured and traumatized,” Polis 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, a stuffed animal, candles, and a rainbow-colored heart sign saying “Love over hate.”
When Seth Stang was buying flowers for the memorial, he learned that two of the dead were his friends. According to the 34-year-old transgender man, it was like being drenched with 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 just two gay nightspots in conservative-leaning Colorado Springs. “It’s kind of the go-to place for pride,” the 26-year-old said of the club, which is tucked behind a bowling alley and sandwich shop.
Located about 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Denver, Colorado Springs is the home of the US Air Force Academy and Focus on the Family, a prominent evangelical Christian organization. As a result of the shooting, the group said, “it exposes the evil and wickedness that exists inside human hearts.”
A gunman targeted a Planned Parenthood clinic in the city in November 2015, killing three and wounding eight.
“Club Q is devastated by the senseless attack on our community,” the club wrote on Facebook. “We thank the quick reactions of heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack.”
A national LGBTQ-rights organization’s CEO, Kevin Jennings, 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.
This shooting took place during Transgender Awareness Week, just before Sunday’s International Transgender Day of Remembrance, when events around the world commemorate transgender people killed by violence.
Thirty-one members of the neo-Nazi Patriot Front were arrested in June in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and charged with conspiracy to riot. Anti-gay rhetoric could be interpreted as a call to action by extremist groups, experts warned.
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 sermons from a fundamentalist Texas pastor.
According to The Associated Press/USA Today database on mass killings in the U.S., there have been 523 mass killings since 2006.