A gunman opened fire in an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo., killing five people and injuring 25 before he was subdued by “heroic” patrons and arrested by police who arrived on the scene within about five minutes, police said Sunday.
Of the 25 injured, at least seven were in critical condition, authorities said. Some were hurt trying to flee, and it was unclear if all of the victims were shot, a police spokesperson said.
Two firearms, including a “long rifle,” were found at the scene at Club Q, said Colorado Springs Police Department Chief Adrian Vasquez. Police are working to establish the ownership of the weapons.
Investigators are still determining a motive, and the attack is being investigated to see if it should be prosecuted as a hate crime, said El Paso County District Attorney Michael Allen. Charges against the suspect “will likely include first-degree murder,” he said.
Police identified the suspect as Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, who is in custody and being treated for injuries. 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.
Police did not confirm whether it is the same person, saying they are investigating whether the suspect has been arrested before.
Saturday’s attack is the sixth mass killing in the U.S. this month and comes in a year when the U.S. has been shaken by the deaths of 21 in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
Nightclub calls shooting ‘hate attack’
Club Q is an LGBTQ nightclub that features a “Drag Diva Drag Show” on Saturdays, according to its website. In addition to the drag show, Club Q’s Facebook page said planned entertainment included a “punk and alternative show” preceding a birthday dance party, with a Sunday “all ages brunch.”
In a statement, Club Q said it was thankful for “the quick reactions of heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack.”
One of the club’s patrons, Joshua Thurman, choked up as he told reporters on Sunday that he was dancing when he first heard gunshots. He sought refuge in a dressing room and locked himself inside with others, praying for his life and thinking about loved ones.
“It’s supposed to be our safe place. A community shouldn’t have to go through something like this for us to come together,” Thurman told local media, adding that one of his friends was killed in the shooting.
The shooting came during Transgender Awareness Week and hours before Sunday’s International Transgender Day of Remembrance, when events around the world are held to mourn and memorialize transgender people lost to violence.
The shooting brought back memories of the 2016 massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., that killed 49 people. And it occurred in a state that has experienced several notorious mass killings, including at Columbine High School in 1999, a movie theater in suburban Denver in 2012 and at a Boulder supermarket last year.
Threats against LGBTQ events, venues
The shooting came as anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has intensified by extremists in parts of the U.S. In June, 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. Experts warned that extremist groups could see anti-LGBTQ rhetoric as a call to action.
The previous month, a fundamentalist Idaho pastor told his small Boise congregation that gay, lesbian and transgender people should be executed by the government, which lined up with similar sermons from a Texas fundamentalist pastor.
Colorado Springs is a city of about 480,000 located 112 kilometres south of Denver and is home to the U.S. Air Force Academy. In November 2015, three people were killed and eight wounded at a Planned Parenthood clinic in the city when authorities say a man opened fire because he wanted to wage “war” on the clinic because it performed abortions.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who became the first openly gay man in the United States to be elected governor in 2018, said the news was “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.”
FBI assisting investigation
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has been briefed on the shooting, federal Justice Department spokesperson Anthony Coley said. The FBI said it is providing assistance to Colorado Springs police, but said the police department is leading the investigation.
U.S. President Joe Biden said that while the motive for the shootings is not yet 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. Yet it happens far too often,” he said. “We must drive out the inequities that contribute to violence against LGBTQI+ people. We cannot and must not tolerate hate.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on Twitter, condemned the attack as a “vile act of hatred.”
“On behalf of Canadians, I’m sending my deepest condolences to those who lost a loved one, and wishing a fast and full recovery to all those injured,” he said.