A 22-year-old gunman walked into an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado around midnight on Saturday and immediately opened fire, killing at least five people and injuring 25 others.
Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vazquez said the suspect in the K Club shooting has been identified as Anderson Lee Aldrich. He used a long gun in the shooting, and two firearms were recovered at the scene, Vasquez said.
At least two people inside the club confronted the gunman and fought, preventing further violence, Vazquez said. “We are very grateful to them,” he said.
Joshua Thurman told CNN affiliate KOAA that he was dancing inside the club when he heard gunshots and saw a chimney flash.
“I thought it was music and kept dancing,” he said. “Then I heard another round of gunshots and me and the customer ran into the changing room, got down, locked the doors and immediately called the police.”
The violence lasted for several minutes. Police received numerous calls to 911 beginning at 11:56 p.m., officers were dispatched at 11:57 p.m., an officer arrived at 12:02 a.m., and the suspect was arrested at 12:02 p.m. A total of 39 patrol officers responded, and 11 emergency vehicles responded to the scene, according to police Fire Department Capt. Mike Smaldino.
Authorities initially said 18 people were injured, but later put the total number at 25. Several of them are in critical condition, but the exact number is unknown.
The suspect is being treated at the hospital, the police added. The officers did not shoot him, police said.
Police are investigating whether the attack was a hate crime and noted 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 their city, to walk around our beautiful city without fear of harm or mistreatment.”
In a statement on social media, Club Q said it was “devastated by this senseless attack on our community” and thanked “the quick reactions of heroic patrons who subdued the gunman and stopped the hate attack”.
Club Q announced earlier that there would be a punk and alternative show on Saturday night at 9pm, followed by a dance party at 11. The club also planned to host a drag brunch and drag show on Sunday for Transgender Day of Remembrance. . The club’s website now says it will be closed until further notice.
The shooting calendar turns to Transgender Day of Remembrance on Sunday, reminiscent of the 2016 attack on an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in which a gunman who pledged allegiance to Islamic State killed 49 people and wounded at least 53 others.
Colorado has been the site of some of the worst mass shootings in US history, including the 1999 Columbine High School shooting and the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting. A mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs in November 2015 left three people dead, and six people were killed at a birthday party last year.
Club Q opened in 2002 and until recently was the only LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs, the state’s second largest city with a population of less than 500,000.
“Proudly queer Club Q has become a pillar of the LGBTQ community where others have fallen,” 5280 magazine reported in a story last year. “It’s where LGBTQ people go for drag shows, dance parties and drinks, and it supports the community with event sponsorships, pride celebrations, fundraisers and more. Although the club has recently shifted to offering more of a ‘dinner and a show’ atmosphere until 10pm, it is still known as a place for young, passionate people to go and dance.”
In a July 2020 interview with the Colorado Springs Indy, Club Q owner Nick Grzeka explained why he and his business partner opened the establishment.
“The whole idea of this place (Club Q) is to have a safe place – to have a permanent place in the city,” Grzecka said.
He and his business partner toured other successful LGBTQ spaces and noted a common theme: “They were gay as hell,” Grzecka said. “They had go-go dancers, drag queens and bartenders. We knew we had to be gay as hell (to survive).
The hotel also hosts events for all ages, including a brunch and an upcoming Thanksgiving event.
Joseph Sheldon told CNN affiliate KRDO that he went to the club to drop off a friend about 10 minutes before the gunman opened fire Saturday night.
“This is where I went a few times in my life when I was 18. A lot of these people in the bar are friends, they’re family, a lot of them are people I’ve become close to,” he said.
“Whether it’s a hate crime or not, it’s hard to see that this is happening, that this happened in my community, that this happened in a place that I go to and that I feel safe, if that’s where it happened. I had another 10 minutes left, and I would be right in the middle.”
Colorado Springs resident Tiana Nicole Dykes called Club Q “a second home full of select families.”
“If not every week, then every two weeks. This space means the world to me. Energy, people, news. It’s an incredible 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 plain shock. “Nobody thinks it’s going to 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.
Curran, who has not been to a club since the pandemic, describes Club Q as one of the safe spaces for the LGBTQ community, where they are not always welcome.
“It’s a very warm, welcoming space, definitely a big step for diversity in the Springs,” Curran told CNN. “Club Q has a very tight-knit community because they’re in the most conservative, big city in Colorado, and there’s a lot of free-floating homophobia in the city. “It’s basically the headquarters of ‘focus on the family’ and there are many anti-gay religious and political groups.”
But whatever senseless hate or discrimination members of the LGBTQ+ community may experience outside the walls of Club Q disappears once they step inside – at least for a few hours of music and dancing. Guests and regulars can be found every evening, either relaxing at the bar, laughing at the table with friends, or immediately heading to the dance floor.
Described by Curran as “a cool, small-town gay bar where everybody knows everybody,” Club Q caters to a racially diverse crowd, including college kids, military personnel and older members of the community.
LGBTQ+ spaces for community members in the Springs are so scarce, Curran says, that Club Q serves as a “welcoming, open and helpful space” and regularly hosts “all-ages” events like brunches and celebratory dinners.
According to reports from law enforcement agencies at the time, a man of the same age and age as the suspect in the shooting was arrested in connection with a bomb threat in June of last year.
Asked at a press conference Sunday if it was the same person, officials said they had to follow protocol before releasing any information about past cases.
According to a June 2021 news release from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, Anderson Lee Aldrich was arrested that month on charges of felony and first-degree kidnapping.
Sheriff’s deputies responded to a report from the man’s mother saying he was “threatening to harm her with a bomb, multiple guns and ammunition.” Deputies called the suspect and said he “refused to obey commands to surrender,” leading them to evacuate nearby homes.
Hours after the initial call to police, the sheriff’s crisis communications unit managed to get Aldrich out of the home, and he was arrested after he walked out the door. Authorities did not find any explosives in the home.
It is not yet known how the case was resolved.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat and the nation’s first openly gay governor, called Sunday’s attack “horrific, sickening and devastating” and offered state resources to local law enforcement.
“We are eternally grateful to the brave individuals who saved the gunman’s life and the first responders who quickly responded to this horrific shooting,” he said. “We join our LGTBQ community in Colorado and all those affected by this tragedy in mourning.”
Colorado’s two U.S. senators, both Democrats, expressed their condolences in their messages and said more needs to be done for the LGBTQ community.
“We must protect LGBTQ lives from this hatred,” said Sen. John Hickenlooper.
“As we seek justice for this unthinkable act, we must do more to protect the LGBTQ community and stand firm against discrimination and hatred of any kind.” This was reported by Senator Michael Bennett.
President Joe Biden also issued a statement saying he is praying for the victims and their families.
“Although the motive for this attack is not yet clear, we know that the LGBTQI+ community has experienced horrific hate violence in recent years. “Gun violence continues to have a devastating and unique impact on LGBTQI+ communities in our country, and threats of violence are on the rise,” Biden said in a written statement.