COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – A gunman opened fire at an LGBTQ nightclub just before midnight Saturday, leaving five people dead and 25 injured, police said Sunday.
Authorities were called to Club Q at 11:57 p.m. Saturday with a report of a shooting, and the first officer arrived at midnight. At least two people at Club Q confronted the shooter, who was using a “long rifle,” and prevented him from injuring others, Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said.
“We owe them a great debt of thanks,” said Vasquez, calling those who intervened “heroic.”
A suspect was taken into custody about five minutes after police first received a 911 call, Vasquez said. Those who were injured were taken to several hospitals, and at least seven were in critical condition Sunday afternoon, according to authorities.
With the Club Q shooting, 2022 has already surpassed 2019 for the most mass killings with firearms in a year in the U.S. at 34, according to the AP/USA TODAY/Northeastern University database.
Police identified the suspect as Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, and said they believe he acted alone. Aldrich was being treated for injuries; police offered few other details.
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, who did not confirm whether that man is the same person as the suspect in Saturday’s shooting.
No explosives were found, authorities said at the time.
On Sunday, authorities were looking into whether to prosecute the attack as a hate crime, according to El Paso County District Attorney Michael Allen, who said charges against the suspect “will likely include first-degree murder.”
In a statement on its Facebook page, Club Q called the shooting a “hate attack” and said it was “devastated by the senseless attack on our community. Our … thoughts are with all the victims and their families and friends.”
“We thank the quick reactions of heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack,” said the statement by Club Q, which describes itself as a dance and nightclub.
Club Q also provided a link to an organization that handles donations.
Joshua Thurman, 34, said he was dancing at the Club Q when the shots began but at first thought they were part of the music. He knew better when he heard another shot and said he saw the flash of a gun muzzle.
Thurman and another person rushed to a dressing room, where they joined a third person in locking the door and hiding while the chaos unfolded.
“I could have lost my life – over what? What was the purpose?” Thurman said as tears ran 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.”
A makeshift memorial of flowers, candles, pride flags, and food continued to grow outside Club Q on Sunday afternoon. Among those paying their respects was Colleen Bunkers, who wore a sign around her neck that read, “Free hugs from the mom of a trans son. We love you.”
She said her son, now 23, has been coming to the club since he was 18, but was at home when the shooting erupted. Bunkers said she had shared at least 15 hugs with those at the memorial.
“I want them to know they have been through so much to get where they are and they don’t need this on top of it,” she said. “They are loved, precious and we care.”
Bunkers said he son recently moved back to Colorado Springs because he felt it would be safe, and to have this happen “is every LGBTQ parents’ worst nightmare.” Still, she added, “I taught him to be confident and love is the answer. We are not going to let this craziness win.”
— Tracy Harmon, Pueblo Chieftain
A prominent Colorado lawmaker is snapping back via social media at a congresswoman for the state in the wake of the Colorado Springs shooting.
After newly reelected Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert offered her condolences on Twitter to victims of the attack and called for an end to “lawless violence,” state Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, a Democrat and co-founder of the Colorado LGBTQ Legislative Caucus, urged Boebert to “do better.”
“You’re part of the problem. Maybe try to be a better Representative to all of your constituents who are stuck with you,” Esgar tweeted, pointing out that Boebert has publicly criticized the LGBTQ community. In June, Boebert tweeted: “Take your children to CHURCH, not drag bars.”
In an interview on MSNBC later Sunday, Esgar said that while she is shocked by the fatal shootings, she isn’t surprised given the hateful rhetoric escalating across the country.
“Putting those kinds of messages out there, folks need to understand that people are listening to that rhetoric and they are taking action upon themselves,” Esgar said.
“We need to do better,” Esgar concluded. “And we need to be better.”
— Terry Collins
Friends and loved ones wait to hear answers
Natalee Bingham, 25, received a FaceTime call from her friend Kelly Jen as Jen entered Club Q at 11:48 p.m. Saturday.
Jen, who is transgender, doesn’t go out much and was excited to show her friend her outfit — a black top, black skirt, and freshly colored red hair. She told Bingham she was going to get a drink at the bar, then head outside to smoke a cigarette, and said she would call her later.
Eight minutes after that, police received the first 911 call about an active shooter in the club. Bingham hasn’t heard from her friend since, and fears Jen was one of the victims in the shooting.
Bingham, who also identifies as transgender, said Club Q is a popular hangout within the LGBTQ community and is considered a “safe space” among her peers. Bingham, who lives in Denver, visited the club in the summer and said it draws patrons from both Colorado Springs and Denver.
“It’s crazy to think people still have this hate in their heart in this day and age,” she said.
— Rick Jervis, USA TODAY
Macie Loureiro, 27, told USA TODAY her brother, Luca Loureiro, was hosting a monthly “Drag Divas” event at Club Q on Saturday night when the shooting occurred. She said Luca was backstage just after the show when he heard gunfire and hid with other performers. He was not injured.
“Normally, it’s a great place to just go with friends and be able to be yourself and really have everybody celebrate in that,” Macie Loureiro said.
“It’s devastating because it was an attack on a family – beautiful people who just wanted to go and have a safe place to hang out and be themselves,” she said. “We’re not going to have that anymore.”
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Colorado Springs, a city of about 480,000 about 70 miles south of Denver, has seen growing acceptance for the LGBTQ community in recent years, including more LGBTQ restaurants and spaces like Club Q, according to Macie Loureiro.
The club had been prepping for a drag brunch Sunday, according to its Facebook page, and said it would be celebrating Transgender Day of Remembrance Sunday “with a variety of gender identities and performance styles.” The day of remembrance honors the at least 32 transgender and nonbinary people killed this year by violence, and it caps Transgender Awareness Week.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, the first openly gay man elected as governor in the U.S., expressed his gratitude for the “brave individuals” who confronted the gunman during the shooting
“This is horrific, sickening, and devastating,” Polis tweeted. “My heart breaks for the family and friends of those lost, injured and traumatized in this terrible shooting.”
President Joe Biden weighed in as well, offering prayers for the “senseless” tragedy. “While no motive in this attack is yet clear, we know that gun violence has a particular impact on LGBTQI+ communities across our nation,” he said on Twitter, adding. “We cannot tolerate hate.”
A mass shooting on June 12, 2016, at an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida, left 49 people dead and 53 injured. The attack at the Pulse nightclub was the second deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
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Jayde Melgosa, 42, was having drinks with co-workers at a casino bar in Black Hawk, Colorado, when she received a text from a friend who had been at Club Q on Saturday night and left 30 minutes before the shooting began.
After speaking with her friend, Melgosa hung up and cried. As a trans woman, Melgosa had performed drag shows on Club Q’s small stage and runway countless times. She knew the bartenders and the people who frequented the bar. She said she and others never felt threatened at the club or in Colorado Springs.
“I can’t believe this is really happening in our state again,” Melgosa said. “What sucks is that it’s happening in one of our safe spaces.”
Melgosa said many of her friends in the local LGBTQ community were flooding social media sites, saying they were OK or asking about missing friends. After the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016, Melgosa and others organized a memorial walk in Las Vegas, where she was living at the time, that drew around 6,500 marchers. She lost several friends in that shooting.
She said she’s planning a similar gathering in Colorado Springs.
“At the end of the day, this will not break us,” Melgosa said. “It will make us stronger.”
— Rick Jervis
One of the mourners who visited a makeshift memorial at the scene of the attack, Joseph Reininger, has lived in Colorado Springs since 1972 and said he brought flowers because he supports the LGBTQ-plus community.
“They are sweet people and I come to the Q for the drag shows. I love the people,” Reininger said.
“It (shooting) makes me feel angry along with sadness,” he said. “Even though it is not determined yet, I am sure that mainstream conservative Christianity had something to do with this. Colorado Springs is sort of a hot bed for that – a conservative community. Although it has changed over the years, we still have a long way to go.”
Focus on the Family, a prominent evangelical Christian ministry based in Colorado Springs, said the shooting “exposes the evil and wickedness inside the human heart.”
Michael Travis, wearing a state of Texas police chaplain’s uniform, visited the scene to play taps on a trumpet.
“We all feel shock and grief, so I came out to comfort everybody,” Travis said.
Travis said he has visited Club Q often and “this is a fantastic place that makes it safe for everybody in the LGBTQ-plus community. It was a place where you could come and forget about work and it was a home to everyone.”
“We are not even safe in our own home. Hopefully this is an isolated incident,” Travis said.
— Tracy Harmon, Pueblo Chieftain
Contributing: Eric Larsen, Fort Collins Coloradoan; The Associated Press