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Gunman targets gay Colorado nightclub

Suspect subdued after 5 killed, 25 injured by Compiled by Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports | November 21, 2022 at 5:35 a.m.
A Colorado Springs Community Service vehicle is parked near a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022 where a shooting occurred late Saturday night. (AP Photo/Geneva Heffernan)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- A gunman opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle inside a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing five people and leaving 25 injured before he was subdued by "heroic" patrons and arrested by police who arrived within minutes, authorities said Sunday.

The shooter used an AR-15-style semiautomatic weapon in the Saturday night shooting at Club Q, a law enforcement official said. A handgun and additional ammunition magazines also were recovered, according to the official, who could not discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

On its Facebook page, the club called it a "hate attack." Investigators were still determining a motive and whether to prosecute it 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 shooting suspect as Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, who was in custody and being treated for injuries.

A conviction of first-degree murder would carry a heavier punishment than under a hate-crime charge, District Attorney Michael Allen of the 4th Judicial District said on Sunday.

The attack ended when someone grabbed a handgun from the gunman and hit him with it, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers told The New York Times. The person who hit the gunman had him pinned down when police arrived.

"One customer took down the gunman and was assisted by another," said Matthew Haynes, one of the club owners. Referring to the first person who acted, Haynes added, "He saved dozens and dozens of lives. Stopped the man cold. Everyone else was running away, and he ran toward him."

Suthers said the club had operated for 21 years and had not reported any threats before Saturday's attack.

At 11:57 p.m. Saturday, police received a call about a shooting at Club Q on North Academy Boulevard, Lt. Pamela Castro, a spokesperson for the Colorado Springs police, told reporters.

Suthers said that the first officer arrived on the scene "within three minutes after being dispatched" and that the suspect "was subdued within two minutes after that."

Joshua Thurman said he was in the club with about two dozen other people and was dancing when the shots began. He initially thought it was part of the music, until he heard another shot and said he saw the flash of a gun muzzle.

Thurman, 34, said he ran with another person to a dressing room where someone already was hiding. They locked the door, turned off the lights and got on the floor but could hear the violence unfolding, including the gunman getting beaten up, he added.

"We heard the music and then we heard pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. That was it. So I kept on dancing," Thurman said. "When I heard another set of shots go off, that's when it clicked in my mind" and "That's when I immediately took off and ran for cover."

"I could have lost my life -- over what? What was the purpose?" he added 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."

The gunman was confronted by "at least two heroic people" who fought and subdued the suspect, said Police Chief Adrian Vasquez.

"We owe them a great debt of thanks," he added. Detectives also were examining whether anyone had helped Aldrich before the attack, Vasquez said.

Police did not give further details on the other guns found at the scene.

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.

The shooting rekindled memories of the 2016 massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people. Colorado has experienced several mass killings, including at Columbine High School in 1999, at a movie theater in suburban Denver in 2012 and at a Boulder supermarket last year.

It was the sixth mass killing this month and came in a year when the nation was shaken by the deaths of 21 in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

Club Q is a gay and lesbian nightclub that features a drag show on Saturdays, according to its website. Club Q's Facebook page said planned entertainment included a "punk and alternative show" preceding a birthday dance party, with a Sunday all-ages drag brunch.

Drag events have become a focus of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and protests recently as opponents, including politicians, have proposed banning children from them, falsely claiming they're used to "groom" children.

Attorney General Merrick Garland was briefed on the shooting and the FBI was assisting police with the investigation.

To substantiate a hate-crime charge against Aldrich, prosecutors would have to prove he was motivated by the victims' actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. So far, the suspect has not been cooperative in interviews with investigators and has not given them clear insight yet about the motivation for the attack, according to the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

President Joe Biden said that while the motive for the shootings was 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," he said. "We cannot and must not tolerate hate."

Biden renewed his call for a federal assault weapons ban, although there is not enough support in Congress to enact one. "When will we decide we've had enough?" he asked. "We must address the public health epidemic of gun violence in all of its forms."

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

"My heart breaks for the family and friends of those lost, injured and traumatized," Polis said. "Colorado stands with our LGTBQ community and everyone impacted by this tragedy as we mourn."

Even Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., who in May accused LGBT supporters of "grooming" children and in August criticized kid-friendly drag shows as a "depravity," wrote on Twitter on Sunday that the shooting was "absolutely awful," adding, "This lawless violence needs to end and end quickly."

A makeshift memorial sprang up Sunday near the club, with flowers, a stuffed animal and candles and a sign saying "Love over hate" next to a rainbow-colored heart.

Seth Stang was buying flowers for the memorial when he was told that two of the dead were his friends. The 34-year-old transgender man said it was like having "a bucket of hot water getting dumped on you. ... I'm just tired of running out of places where we can exist safely."

Ryan Johnson, who lives near the club and was there last month, said it was one of only two nightspots for the LGBTQ community in conservative-leaning Colorado Springs. "It's kind of the go-to for pride," the 26-year-old said of the club, which is tucked behind other businesses, including a bowling alley and a sandwich shop.

Colorado Springs, a city of about 480,000 located 70 miles south of Denver, is home to the U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Olympic Training Center, as well as Focus on the Family, a prominent evangelical Christian ministry that lobbies against LGBTQ rights. The group condemned the shooting and said it "exposes the evil and wickedness inside the human heart."

In November 2015, three people were killed and eight wounded at a Planned Parenthood clinic in the city when authorities say a gunman targeted the clinic because it performed abortions.

"Club Q is devastated by the senseless attack on our community," the club posted on Facebook. "We thank the quick reactions of heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack."

The CEO of a national LGBTQ-rights organization, Kevin Jennings of Lambda Legal, pleaded for tighter restrictions on guns.

"America's toxic mix of bigotry and absurdly easy access to firearms means that such events are all too common and LGBTQ+ people, BIPOC communities, the Jewish community and other vulnerable populations pay the price again and again for our political leadership's failure to act," he said in a statement.

The shooting came during Transgender Awareness Week and just at the start of Sunday's International Transgender Day of Remembrance, when events around the world are held to mourn and remember transgender people lost to violence.

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-gay 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.

The shooting comes amid a rapid rise in anti-LGBTQ activity, which includes demonstrations and attacks. From 2020 to 2021 the number of demonstrations and attacks targeting LGBT people has increased by a factor of more than four, from 15 incidents to 61, according to the global conflict-monitoring group ACLED.

As of early June, ACLED counted 33 anti-LGBTQ incidents so far this year, indicating an even bleaker 2022.

Since 2006, there have been 523 mass killings and 2,727 deaths as of Nov. 19, according to The Associated Press/USA Today database on mass killings in the U.S.


The man detained in Saturday's mass shooting at a Colorado Springs nightclub is a 22-year-old city resident who was charged by law enforcement officials last year in connection with a bomb threat in a neighborhood about 15 miles from the scene of the deadly rampage.

Aldrich was identified by Colorado Springs police as the suspected gunman who walked into the Club Q bar shortly before midnight and opened fire with a long gun and perhaps a second weapon, killing at least five victims before being tackled by people inside the bar. He was detained by police minutes later.

A man with that name was arrested in 2021 after his mother reported he threatened her with a homemade bomb and other weapons, authorities said.

Aldrich's previous encounter with law enforcement came on June 18 of that year, when he was arrested following a disturbance in the Lorson Ranch community, a suburb of modest single-family homes on the southeastern outskirts of Colorado Springs.

A woman called the El Paso County sheriff's office to say that her son was threatening to hurt her with a homemade bomb and other weapons, according to a sheriff's office report at the time. Sheriff's deputies ordered an evacuation of the neighborhood and confronted Aldrich, then 21, at another house a mile away.

Aldrich refused at first to back down, but after a nearly one-hour standoff, he surrendered without incident. No bomb was found, but Aldrich was charged with multiple offenses, including felony menacing and kidnapping. The Gazette in Colorado Springs reported that prosecutors did not pursue any charges and that records were sealed.

It was unclear whether any petitions had been filed against Aldrich preventing him from possessing a firearm. Colorado's 2019 "red flag" law gives local judges the authority to order the confiscation of firearms from individuals with a history of mental illness or violence.

As of Sept. 28, there have been 348 "red flag" cases in Colorado, the majority filed by police departments. The Colorado Springs Police Department has filed two petitions in that time.

Aldrich's mother had been renting a spare room from Leslie Bowman, who said in an interview Sunday that she had been away at the time.

"His mom had called me and said, 'Don't come home right now, there are some people looking for Andy,'" Bowman recalled, using the man's nickname.

On Sunday, after the shooting, Bowman was left wondering why the man may have been at large and able to get hold of a rifle, if he had been accused of the bomb threat.

"Why is he not in jail, after that happening?" Bowman asked. "After that initial day, police never reached out to me for additional information. I'm a Second Amendment supporter, don't get me wrong. But for him to be out there, and have access to weapons after that incident, I don't understand it."

In this gun-saturated community, more than 7,000 firearms have been stolen since 2017 in Colorado Springs alone, according to police department data, more than 20 times the national rate of firearm thefts, according to Department of Justice statistics. One of those stolen guns was used to shoot a Colorado Springs officer in the head in 2018. He survived.

Among Colorado counties, El Paso has seen the largest increase in concealed-carry permit holders in the past decade, with more than 50,000 residents holding permits. The sheriff's office celebrated it last December by tweeting a photo of a man resembling Santa Claus applying for a permit, three days after four Michigan teens died in a school shooting.

And in 2016 a school district in the rural southeast corner of El Paso County voted to allow teachers to carry guns.

Information for this article was contributed by Thomas Peipert, Jesse Bedayn, Colleen Slevin, Michael Balsamo, Jamie Stengle, Jeff McMillan and Matthew Brown of The Associated Press, Joby Warrick, Robert Klemko, Michelle Boorstein, Azi Paybarah and Praveena Somasundaram, Leo Sands, Ellen Francis, Ben Brasch, Joby Warrick, Hannah Allam and Robert Klemko of The Washington Post and by Jack Healy, Mitch Smith, Adam Goldman and Patricia Mazzei of The New York Times.

  photo  A police officer exits his car near a crime scene at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022 where a shooting occurred late Saturday night. (AP Photo/Geneva Heffernan)
  photo  R.J. Lewis, center, attends a vigil at All Souls Unitarian Church with others, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Colorado Springs, Colo., following a fatal shooting at gay nightclub Club Q late the night before. Lewis was at Club Q when a 22-year-old gunman entered the LGBTQ nightclub killing several people and injuring multiple others. (RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via AP)
  photo  Tyrice Kelley, center right, a performer at Club Q, is comforted during a service held at All Souls Unitarian Church following an overnight fatal shooting at the gay nightclub, in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (Parker Seibold/The Gazette via AP)
  photo  Tyler Johnston, right, comforts his friend Joshua Thurman at a makeshift memorial near Club Q, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Colorado Springs, Colo. Thurman was inside the gay nightclub when a gunman opened fire the night before, killing several people and injuring multiple others before he was subdued by “heroic” patrons. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via AP)
  photo  Fred Ramirez, Trinity Ramirez, Tim Bates, and Malissa Ramirez grieve near a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, where a shooting occurred late Saturday night. (AP Photo/Geneva Heffernan)
  photo  This image provided by KTTV shows the scene after a shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo., Saturday, Nov. 20, 2022. (KTTV via AP)
  photo  Crime tape is set up near a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022 where a shooting occurred late Saturday night. (AP Photo/Thomas Peipert)
  photo  Kristen Morris and her son, Kai Morris, 6, walk away from a memorial Sunday morning, Nov. 20, 2022, for the victims of a shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Saturday night. Morris wanted to share kindness and she and her two sons placed painted crosses on the memorial. (Christian Murdock/The Gazette via AP)
  photo  Crystal and Ella Mondragon place flowers at a makeshift memorial near a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022 where a shooting occurred late Saturday night. (AP PhotoGeneva Heffernan)

 Gallery: Shooting at gay nightclub in Colorado

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