Gunman kills 5 at gay nightclub overwhelmed by patrons

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — A 22-year-old gunman opened fire at a Colorado Springs gay nightclub, killing five people and injuring 18, before being overpowered by “heroic” patrons and arrested by police who were on the scene was scene within minutes, authorities said on Sunday.

Two firearms, including a “long gun,” were found after Saturday night’s shooting at Club Q, police chief Adrian Vasquez said.

Investigators are still determining a motive and the attack is under investigation to determine whether it should be prosecuted as a hate crime, said El Paso County District Attorney Michael Allen.

Police identified the shooter as Anderson Lee Aldrich, who was in custody and being treated for injuries. A man of the same name and age was arrested in 2021 after his mother reported he threatened her with “a homemade bomb, several guns and ammunition,” according to authorities.

Police did not confirm if it was the same person and said they were investigating whether the suspect had been arrested before.

Authorities were called to Club Q at 11:57pm on Saturday with a report of a shooting and the first officer arrived at midnight.

“At least two heroic people” confronted the shooter and stopped the shooting, Vasquez said, adding, “We owe them a great debt of gratitude.”

Of the 18 injured, some were in critical condition and at least two had been treated and released, officials said, adding that some were injured trying to escape.

The shooting brought back memories of the 2016 massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which killed 49 people. And it happened in a state that has seen several notorious mass murders, including at Columbine High School in 1999, at a movie theater in suburban Denver in 2012, and at a convenience store in Boulder last year.

It was the sixth mass killing this month and happened in a year as the nation was rocked by the death of 21 in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

Attorney General Merrick Garland was briefed on the shooting, Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said. The FBI said it would help but said police are leading the investigation.

President Joe Biden said that while the motive for the shootings is not yet clear, “we know that the LGBTQI+ community has faced horrendous hate violence in recent years.”

“Places that should be safe places of acceptance and celebration should never become places of terror and violence. But it happens far too often,” he said. “We must address the injustices that contribute to violence against LGBTQI+ people. We cannot and must not tolerate hate.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who became the first openly gay man to be elected governor in the United States in 2018, called the shooting “disgusting.”

“My heart breaks for the family and friends of those who were lost, injured and traumatized in this horrific shooting. I spoke to Mayor (John) Suthers and made it clear that all state resources are available to local law enforcement in Colorado Springs,” Polis said. “Colorado stands with our LGTBQ community and everyone affected by this tragedy as we mourn.”

Ryan Johnson, who lives near Club Q and was there last month, said it’s one of only two nightclubs for the LGBTQ community in conservative Colorado Springs. “It’s a kind of pride,” said the 26-year-old, describing it as a mid-sized club.

When he got home early Sunday, he saw police cars on the streets.

“It just feels crazy, you hear about it and you don’t think it’s going to happen, and then it happens,” Johnson said. “You come to Colorado and you feel safer than other parts of the country, and then this happens.”

Robert Nichols, 35, said he was desperate on Sunday for a girlfriend who had told him she would be at the club and hadn’t returned his calls. He said this led to some “anxiety-inducing” hours before he saw the girlfriend’s car outside her house and decided she was fine.

Although a motive was not yet clear, nor the gender identity of the victims, the incident occurred as anti-gay rhetoric was intensified by extremists. In a statement, Club Q described the shooting as a hate attack.

“Club Q is devastated by the senseless attack on our community,” the club posted on its Facebook page. It said its prayers are with victims and families, adding: “We thank the quick responses from heroic customers who overwhelmed the shooter and ended this hate attack.”

The CEO of a national LGBTQ rights organization, Lambda Legal’s Kevin Jennings, responded by pleading for stricter gun restrictions.

“America’s toxic mix of bigotry and absurdly easy access to firearms means such events are all too common, and LGBTQ+ people, BIPOC communities, the Jewish community and other vulnerable populations continue to pay the price for our political leadership’s failure to do so,” he said said in a statement. “We must stand together to demand meaningful action before another tragedy strikes our nation.”

The shooting took place during Transgender Awareness Week and hours ahead of Sunday’s International Transgender Remembrance Day, when events are held around the world to mourn transgender people and remember transgender people lost to violence. The Colorado Springs shooting would certainly add a special resonance to these events.

Club Q is a gay and lesbian nightclub that offers 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” before a birthday dance party with a Sunday “brunch for all ages.”

Colorado Springs is a city of about 480,000 located about 70 miles south of Denver and home to the US Air Force Academy and Focus on the Family, a prominent evangelical Christian ministry.

In November 2015, three people were killed and eight injured at a Planned Parenthood clinic in the city when authorities said a man opened fire because he wanted to wage “war” on the clinic for performing abortions.

In June, 31 members of the neo-Nazi group Patriot Front were arrested in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and charged with conspiring to riot at a Pride event. Experts warned that extremist groups could take anti-gay rhetoric as a call to action.

Last month, a fundamentalist Idaho pastor told his small Boise congregation that gay, lesbian and transgender people should be executed by the government, echoing similar sermons by a Texas fundamentalist pastor.

According to The Associated Press/USA Today database of mass killings in the US, since 2006 there have been 523 mass killings with 2,727 deaths on November 19

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Bedayn is a corps member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover undercover topics.

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