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 patrons confronted and stopped him, police said Sunday.
The suspect in the shooting at Club Q was identified as Anderson Lee Aldrich, according to Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez. He used a long rifle in the shooting, and two firearms were found at the scene, Vasquez said.
At least two people inside the club confronted and fought the gunman and prevented further violence, Vasquez said. “We owe them a great debt of thanks,” he said.
Police said they were 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 a right to feel safe and secure in our city, to go about our beautiful city without fear of being harmed or treated poorly.”
In a statement on social media, Club Q said it was “devastated by the senseless attack on our community” and thanked “the quick reactions of heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack.”
Club Q posted earlier in the day that its Saturday night lineup would feature a punk and alternative show at 9 p.m. followed by a dance party at 11. The club also planned to hold a drag brunch and a drag show on Sunday for Transgender Day of Remembrance. The club’s website now says it will be closed until further notice.
Gov. Jared Polis ordered flags lowered to half-staff at all public buildings statewide to honor the victims of the mass shooting beginning Monday until Saturday, according to a news release from his office.
“Flags will be lowered for 5 days to remember each of the 5 individuals who lost their lives in this senseless tragedy,” the release read. “To further honor and remember the victims and those injured in this tragedy, the Polis-Primavera administration will also be flying the Pride flag at the Colorado state capitol for the next five days.”
The shooting came as the calendar turned to Transgender Day of Remembrance on Sunday and is reminiscent of the 2016 attack at an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in which a gunman who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State killed 49 people and wounded at least 53.
Colorado has been the site of some of the most heinous mass shootings in US history, including the 1999 shooting in Columbine High School and the 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora. Colorado Springs was the site of mass shootings at a Planned Parenthood in November 2015 that left three dead and at a birthday party last year that left six dead.
According to data from the Gun Violence Archive, there have been more than 600 mass shootings in the United States so far this year, defined as an incident in which at least four people are shot, excluding the shooter.
How the shooting unfolded
Joshua Thurman told CNN affiliate KOAA he was inside the club dancing when he heard gunshots and saw a muzzle flash.
“I thought it was the music, so I kept dancing,” he said. “Then I heard another set of shots, and then me and a customer ran to the dressing room, got on the ground and locked the doors and called the police immediately.”
Thurman said he heard the sounds of more gunshots, people crying and windows being shattered. When he came out, he saw bodies lying on the ground, broken glass and blood, he said.
The violence lasted just minutes. Police received numerous 911 calls starting at 11:56 p.m., officers were dispatched at 11:57 p.m., an officer arrived at midnight and the suspect was detained at 12:02 a.m., police said. A total of 39 patrol officers responded, police said, and Fire Department Captain Mike Smaldino said 11 ambulances went to the scene.
Authorities initially said 18 people were injured but later adjusted that total up to 25. Nineteen of the 25 injured had gunshot wounds, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers told CNN’s Jim Acosta Sunday. Based on communication with medical personnel, Suthers said he expects the injured victims to survive and the community is “crossing our fingers” for no more fatalities.
The suspect is being treated at a hospital, police added. Officers did not shoot at him, police said.
Joseph Sheldon told CNN affiliate KRDO he visited the club Saturday night to drop off a friend about 10 minutes before the gunman opened fire.
“This is a bar I’ve gone to multiple times in my life since I became the age of 18. A lot of these people at the bar are friends, they are family, a lot 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 going on, that this happened in my community, that this happened at a place that I’ve gone to and felt safe, that this happened at a place where if I stayed 10 more minutes, I would have been right in the middle of it.”
Club Q was safe space for LGBTQ community
Colorado Springs, the state’s second-most populous city with just under 500,000 residents, is home to a number of military bases and is the headquarters for Focus on the Family, the conservative Christian group that says homosexuality and same-sex marriage are sins.
Club Q opened in 2002 and was, until recently, the only LGBTQ club in the city.
“Proudly queer Club Q has stood as a bastion of the LGBTQ community where others have fallen,” 5280 magazine reported in a story last year. “It’s where LGBTQ folks go for drag performances, dance parties, and drinks, and it supports the community with event sponsorships, pride celebrations, charity drives, and more. While the club has recently shifted to offering more low-key ‘dinner and a show’ vibes before 10 p.m., it’s still known as the place for queer young adults to go and get their dance on.”
In a July 2020 interview with Colorado Springs Indy, Club Q owner Nic Grzecka 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 get a permanent one 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 told the outlet. “They had go-go dancers and drag queens and bartenders in jockstraps. We knew we had to be gay as hell (to survive).”
The venue also hosts events for people of all ages, including brunch and planned an upcoming Thanksgiving event.
Lifelong Colorado Springs resident Tiana Nicole Dykes called Club Q “a second home full of chosen family.”
“I’m there every other week if not every single week. This space means the world to me. The energy, the people, the message. It’s an amazing place that didn’t deserve this tragedy,” Dykes told CNN on Sunday. “Something like a mass shooting at an LGBT+ safe space is damaging beyond belief. There’s feelings of disrespect, disbelief, and just pure shock. Nobody ever thinks it’s gonna happen to them, and sometimes it does.”
Tim Curran, a copy editor for CNN’s “Early Start,” is a regular at Club Q with his boyfriend when he visits his family in Colorado Springs.
“It’s a very warm, welcoming space, definitely a big step up for diversity in the Springs,” Curran told CNN.
Jewels Parks, who has been in the Colorado drag scene for over a year and performs under the drag name Dezzy Dazzles, said Club Q was a community, a family and a space where the outside world’s cruelty was not welcome.
“Club Q, along with all of the other LGBTQIA+ bars, represent a safe space for a community that has felt unsafe and rejected for most of their lives,” Parks told CNN. “In a world that can be so dark and so angry, it’s that one place that feels like home. We’re able to unwind, forget about our troubles with work, family, society. Because of Club Q, we’re able to make friends that turn into family and be accepted for our true selves.”
“The LGBTQIA+ community has undergone so much bigotry and hatred already. To have our safe place ripped from us and to lose members of our community is a whole other type of hurt,” Parks added.
Antonio Taylor, a drag queen who was born and raised in Colorado Springs, told CNN they discovered Club Q in 2020, when they saw their first drag show. Taylor, who recently came out as bisexual, said a whole new world opened up for them – a world where they were not only safe, but truly loved.
“The people there made me feel like I was a part of a family. Seeing so many people out and proud about themselves definitely influenced me to be my true self,” Taylor told CNN, adding that Club Q and its community helped them feel ready to come out.
“This was one of the places where I didn’t have to worry about looks or people hating me for who I am,” they said. “I’m sick to my stomach that the one place where I knew I was safe has been made unsafe.”
Shenika Mosley, a 14-year patron of Club Q, said the shooting took away the nightclub’s “good energy.”
Mosley has frequented Club Q since 2009 and would find herself on its doorstep “anytime I wanted to get away and go have fun. It just had good energy … never bad energy. We’ll never be able to have that ever again.”
Lily Forsell had a similar sentiment, saying she had been celebrating her 18th birthday at the club and left just before shots rang out. She said she remembers the scene on the dance floor as she was leaving: dozens of people laughing, singing and dancing.
“Looking at that dance floor is going to be a completely different feeling, now that we know what happened to 30 people on that floor,” Forsell told CNN. “I keep all of the drag queens in my heart. They made it out safely, but two of them, who I had first met last night, had to walk out of the building past the horrific scene, their friends injured or killed on the ground.”
Police investigating suspect’s past
Aldrich was arrested in June 2021 in connection with a bomb threat that led to a standoff at his mother’s home, according to a news release from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office at the time and his mother’s former landlord.
Two law enforcement sources confirmed the suspect in the nightclub shooting and the bomb threat were the same person based on name and date of birth.
Video obtained by CNN shows Aldrich surrendering to law enforcement last year after allegedly making a bomb threat. Footage from the Ring door camera of the owner of the home shows Aldrich exiting the house with his hands up and barefoot, and walking to sheriff’s deputies.
Aldrich was arrested that month on charges of felony menacing and first-degree kidnapping, according to the El Paso release.
Sheriff’s deputies responded to a report by the man’s mother that he was “threatening to cause harm to her with a homemade bomb, multiple weapons, and ammunition,” according to the release. Deputies called the suspect, and he “refused to comply with orders to surrender,” the release said, leading them to evacuate nearby homes.
Several hours after the initial police call, the sheriff’s crisis negotiations unit was able to get Aldrich to leave the house, and he was arrested after walking out the front door. Authorities did not find any explosives in the home.
Leslie Bowman, who owns the house where Aldrich’s mother lived, provided CNN the videos. Bowman said Aldrich’s mother rented a room in the house for a little over a year. Aldrich would “come by and visit his mom and hang out in her room,” Bowman said. She described Aldrich as “not very sociable.”
One time, Bowman said, Aldrich got angry at her during an argument about a bathroom toilet not working, and slammed a door in her face.
“That was the only time he was aggressive or angry towards me,” she said.
Attempts by CNN to reach Aldrich’s mother for comment were unsuccessful.
It was not immediately clear how the bomb threat case was resolved, but the Colorado Springs Gazette reported that the district attorney’s office said no formal charges were pursued in the case. The district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment from CNN.
Aldrich also called the Gazette in an attempt to get an earlier story about the 2021 incident removed from the website, the newspaper reported. “There is absolutely nothing there, the case was dropped, and I’m asking you either remove or update the story,” Aldrich said in a voice message, according to the Gazette.
Politicians offer support to LGBTQ community
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat and the nation’s first openly gay governor, issued a statement Sunday calling the attack “horrific, sickening and devastating” and offered state resources to local law enforcement.
“We are eternally grateful for the brave individuals who blocked the gunman likely saving lives in the process and for the first responders who responded swiftly to this horrific shooting,” he said. “Colorado stands with our LGTBQ community and everyone impacted by this tragedy as we mourn together.”
Polis told CNN’s Jim Acosta there are only two gay bars in Colorado Springs, and Club Q was one of the main venues.
“Everyone knew it. I knew it, knew this venue. It’s just shocking. That’s still setting in for people. But I know we’re going to bounce back. We’re showing love for one another. We’re showing healing for one another,” the governor said.
Colorado’s two US senators, both Democrats, offered condolences in statements and said more should be done for the LGBTQ community.
“We have to protect LGBTQ lives from this hate,” Sen. John Hickenlooper said.
“As we seek justice for this unimaginable act, we must do more to protect the LGBTQ community and stand firm against discrimination and hate in every form,” Sen. Michael Bennett said.
President Joe Biden also issued a statement saying he was praying for the victims and their families.
“While no motive in this attack is yet clear, we know that the LGBTQI+ community has been subjected to horrific hate violence in recent years. Gun violence continues to have a devastating and particular impact on LGBTQI+ communities across our nation and threats of violence are increasing,” Biden said in the written statement.
CNN’s Casey Tolan, Alaa Elassar, Sam Fossum and Rosa Flores contributed to this report.