Colorado Springs taking pictures: Gunman kills 5 at LGBTQ nightclub earlier than friends confront and cease him, police say
A 22-year-old gunman entered an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, just before midnight Saturday and immediately opened fire, killing at least five people and injuring 25 others before guests confronted and stopped him, police said Sunday.
The suspect in the Club Q shooting has been identified as Anderson Lee Aldrich, according to Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez. He used a long rifle in the shooting, and two guns were found at the scene, Vasquez said.
At least two people at the club confronted and fought the shooter, preventing further violence, Vasquez said. “We owe them a great debt of gratitude,” he said.
Joshua Thurman told CNN affiliate KOAA he was at the dancing club when he heard gunfire and saw a muzzle flash.
“I thought it was the music, so I kept dancing,” he said. “Then I heard another series of shots and then I ran into the dressing room with a customer, got on the floor and locked the doors and immediately called the police.”
The violence lasted only a few minutes. Police received numerous emergency calls beginning at 11:56 p.m., officers were dispatched at 11:57 p.m., an officer arrived at midnight and the suspect was arrested at 12:02 a.m., police said. A total of 39 patrol officers responded, police said, and Fire Chief Mike Smaldino said 11 ambulances were at the scene.
Authorities initially said 18 people were injured but later adjusted the number to 25. Of them, several are in critical condition with gunshot wounds, although the exact number was unclear, officials said.
The suspect is being treated at a hospital, police added. The officers did not shoot him, the police said.
Police said they were investigating whether the attack constituted a hate crime and took note of Club Q’s relationship with the LGBTQ community.
“Club Q is a safe haven for our LGBTQ citizens,” Vasquez said. “Every citizen has the right to feel safe and secure in our city, to move about our beautiful city without fear of being injured or mistreated.”
In a statement on social media, Club Q said it was “devastated by the senseless attack on our community” and thanked “the quick responses from heroic customers who overwhelmed the shooter and ended this hate attack.”
Club Q announced earlier in the day that its Saturday night line-up would feature a punk and alternative show at 9pm followed by a dance party at 11pm. The club also planned to host a Transgender Memorial Day drag brunch and drag show on Sunday. The club’s website now states that it is closed until further notice.
The shooting came as the calendar switched to Sunday’s Transgender Memorial Day and commemorates the 2016 attack on an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in which a gunman who swore allegiance to Islamic State killed 49 people and at least 53 injured.
Colorado has been the site of some of the most heinous mass shootings in U.S. history, including the 1999 Columbine High School shooting and the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting. Colorado Springs was the scene of mass shootings at a Planned Parenthood event in November 2015 that killed three people and at a birthday celebration last year that killed six people.
Colorado Springs, the state’s second most populous city with a population of just under 500,000, is home to a number of military bases and is the headquarters of Focus on the Family, the conservative Christian group that calls homosexuality and same-sex marriage sins.
Club Q opened in 2002 and until recently was the city’s only LGBTQ club.
“The proud queer Club Q has stood as a bastion of the LGBTQ community where others have fallen,” reported 5280 magazine in an article last year. “It’s where LGBTQ people gather for drag performances, dance parties and drinks, and it supports the community with event sponsorships, pride celebrations, charities and more. While the club offers a more low-key ‘dinner and a show’ vibe before 10pm, it’s still known as the go-to place for queer young adults to go dancing.”
In a July 2020 interview with Colorado Springs Indy, Club Q owner Nic Grzecka explained why he and his business partner opened the venue.
“The whole idea of this place (Club Q) is to have a safe place — to get a permanent one in the city,” Grzecka said.
He and his business partner toured other successful LGBTQ spaces and noticed a common theme: “They were gay as hell,” Grzecka told the outlet. “They had go-go dancers and drag queens and bartenders in jockstrap. We knew we had to be gay as hell (to survive).”
The venue also hosts events for people of all ages, including brunch, and was planning an upcoming Thanksgiving event.
Joseph Sheldon told CNN affiliate KRDO he visited the club on Saturday night to drop off a friend about 10 minutes before the gunman opened fire.
“This is a bar I have visited several times in my life since I was 18. A lot of these people in the bar are friends, they’re family, a lot are people close to me,” he said.
“Whether or not it’s a hate crime, it’s hard to see that this is happening, that this happened in my community, that this happened in a place where I went and where I’m sure felt this happened in a place where it happened I stayed 10 more minutes and I would have been right in the middle of it.”
Tiana Nicole Dykes, a longtime resident of Colorado Springs, called Club Q “a home away from home full of chosen families.”
“I’m there every other week, if not every week. This room means the world to me. The energy, the people, the message. It’s an amazing place that doesn’t deserve this tragedy,” Dykes told CNN on Sunday. “Something like a mass shooting in an LGBT+ safe space is incredibly damaging. There are feelings of disrespect, disbelief and just pure shock. Nobody ever thinks that will happen to them, and sometimes it does.”
Tim Curran, editor of CNN’s “Early Start,” is a regular at Club Q with his boyfriend when visiting family in Colorado Springs.
“It’s a very warm, welcoming place, definitely a big step forward for diversity in the Springs,” Curran told CNN.
A man of the same name and age as the suspected gunman was arrested in June last year in connection with a bomb threat, according to a law enforcement statement at the time.
When asked at a news conference on Sunday if it was the same person, officials said they had to follow protocol before releasing information about previous cases.
According to a June 2021 news release from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, an Anderson Lee Aldrich was arrested this month on charges of threatened felony and first-degree kidnapping.
The sheriff’s deputies responded to a report from the man’s mother that he “threatened to harm her with a homemade bomb, multiple guns and ammunition,” the press release said. MPs called the suspect, and he “refused to obey orders to surrender,” the release said, prompting them to evacuate nearby homes.
A few hours after the first call to the police, the Sheriff’s Crisis Unit was able to get Aldrich out of the house and he was arrested after walking through the front door. Authorities found no explosives in the apartment.
It was initially unclear how the case was resolved.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat and the nation’s first openly gay governor, issued a statement Sunday calling the attack “horrifying, disgusting and devastating” and offering state resources to local law enforcement.
“We are infinitely grateful for the brave individuals who blocked the shooter who likely saved lives in the process and for the first responders who responded quickly to this horrific shooting,” he said. “Colorado stands with our LGTBQ community and everyone affected by this tragedy as we mourn together.”
The two US senators from Colorado, both Democrats, issued statements expressing their condolences and saying more should be done for the LGBTQ community.
“We must protect LGBTQ lives from this hate,” said Senator John Hickenlooper.
“As we seek justice for this unimaginable act, we must do more to protect the LGBTQ community and stand up against all forms of discrimination and hatred,” said Senator Michael Bennett.
President Joe Biden also issued a statement saying he prays for the victims and their families.
“While no motive for this attack is yet clear, we know that the LGBTQI+ community has been subjected to horrendous hate violence in recent years. Gun violence continues to have a devastating and particular impact on LGBTQI+ communities in our country, and threats of violence are increasing,” Biden said in the written statement.