A gunman entered a Colorado Springs LGBTQ club and immediately began firing with a long rifle late Saturday, killing at least five people and injuring 18, police said.
Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez praised “at least two heroic people” inside Club Q who, he said, “confronted and fought with the suspect and were able to stop the suspect from continuing to kill and harm others.
“We owe them a great debt of thanks,” Vasquez said at a news conference Sunday morning.
“Their actions clearly saved lives,” Mayor John Suthers, a Republican, said later at the news conference.
The suspected shooter, who officials identified as Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, was injured in the attack, apprehended and hospitalized, Sgt. Pamela Castro, the Colorado Springs Police Department spokeswoman, said at an earlier briefing.
A man by the same name and age was the subject of a June 2021 report of a bomb threat, according to a news release from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, which notes that the man’s mother told authorities “her son was threatening to cause harm to her with a homemade bomb, multiple weapons, and ammunition.”
The suspect was inside a home about a mile from his mother, according to the sheriff’s office, which added that officials evacuated nearby homes following the bomb threat. It took authorities more than three hours to get the suspect to surrender, and officials arrested him on two counts of felony menacing and three counts of first-degree kidnapping. No bombs were found, according to the sheriff’s office.
Officials at the news conference Sunday did not confirm whether the suspect in that case was the same one believed to be the shooter at Club Q.
Castro, the police department spokeswoman, said “numerous people” were transported to multiple hospitals by ambulance and police cruisers, and that hospital officials were helping police notify the family members of those injured.
Patients are being treated at three different hospitals, Colorado Springs Fire Chief Randy Royal said at the news conference.
Penrose Hospital is treating seven patients, two of whom remain in critical condition; the other five “mainly had extremity injuries,” the hospital’s Chief Medical Officer William Plauth said Sunday, adding that two of those five patients have already been treated and released.
Memorial Hospital Central received 10 patients, Chief Medical Officer David Steinbruner said. Those injuries included “multiple gunshot wounds” and “several people” in the ICU, Steinbruner added.
He said that patients’ conditions are “a moving target.”
Memorial Hospital North received two patients, officials said.
Castro said she expected the number of casualties to change as the investigation unfolded. She added that there were “some injuries that were a result of people fleeing” the scene.
“We will be here for many many hours to come,” Castro said.
The FBI was assisting on the scene, she said.
“We thank the quick reactions of heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack,” the nightclub, Club Q, posted on its Facebook page.
Vasquez said “at least two firearms were found at the scene” and that officials “are still working to identify the firearms and who they belong to,” but reiterated that the shooter used a long rifle.
District Attorney Michael Allen said that there is “no ongoing threat that we are aware of” and that the case will be officially transferred to his office in the coming days.
“Every person, regardless of who they are, has a right to be secure from fear and physical harm, and actions taken to strike fear in specific communities will not be tolerated in our community,” Allen said.
President Joe Biden condemned the shooting in a lengthy statement Sunday afternoon in which he noted that, while the motive in the shooting remains unclear, LGBTQ people, and transgender women of color in particular, face especially high rates of violence.
“Places that are supposed to be safe spaces of acceptance and celebration should never be turned into places of terror and violence. Yet it happens far too often,” Biden said. “We must drive out the inequities that contribute to violence against LGBTQI+ people. We cannot and must not tolerate hate.”
The President also renewed his call for an assault weapons ban, saying that while he passed landmark bipartisan gun legislation earlier this year, “we must do more.”
“Today, Jill and I are praying for the families of the five people killed in Colorado Springs last night, and for those injured in this senseless attack,” Biden added.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who in the 2020 presidential election became the first openly gay candidate to run for the nation’s highest office, called the news of the shooting “sickening and heartbreaking” and part of a “pattern” in a tweet Sunday.
“We can not, will not, allow hate to win. We must end this in our time,” Buttigieg wrote. “No rest until all of us, including all of us in the LGBTQ+ community, can be, and feel, safe.”
‘A safe haven for our LGBTQ citizens’
Police responded to initial calls at 11:57 p.m. local time (1:57 a.m. Sunday ET). Social media footage from across the street and verified by NBC News showed dozens of police vehicles and a fire truck deployed near the club.
The first officer arrived on the scene at midnight, and the suspect was detained two minutes later, officials said at a news conference Sunday morning.
Club Q was hosting a “Drag Divas” show followed by a DJ night on Saturday, according to its Facebook page.
On Sunday, its Facebook page shows, Club Q planned to host a Drag Brunch for all ages, as well as later performances to honor Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual observance since 1999 that honors the memory of transgender people killed in acts of anti-trans violence, according to GLAAD.
So far this year, at least 32 transgender people have been shot or killed, according to the Human Rights Campaign, though that count does not appear to include the Colorado Springs victims.
Drag performers have become a particular target of right-wing activists and politicians, who claim they “groom” children. Some politicians have proposed banning kids from drag events and criminally charging any parents who bring their kids to such events.
Vasquez called Club Q “a safe haven for our LGBTQ citizens.”
Officials are investigating whether the shooting was a hate crime.
While the motive of the attack was not immediately known it comes amid what President Biden earlier this year called “rising hate and violence” against LGBTQ people.
Hate crimes against LGBTQ people were up 51% last year compared to 2020, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
The shooting comes six years after the 2016 massacre at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which left 49 people dead and dozens injured.
LGBTQ advocates spoke out against the shooting and in support of the victims on Sunday.
“We must rise against hate in the strongest possible terms, we must stand together in solidarity and love with our LGBTQ+ family in Colorado Springs and demand an end to this epidemic of gun violence,” the Human Rights Campaign’s incoming president, Kelley Robinson, said in a statement. “From Pulse to Colorado Springs to so many other lives stolen from us— this has occurred for far too long. HRC mourns the lives taken at Club Q last night and extends our deepest strength, love and condolences to the loved ones impacted.”
“You can draw a straight line from the false and vile rhetoric about LGBTQ people spread by extremists and amplified across social media, to the nearly 300 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced this year, to the dozens of attacks on our community like this one,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and chief executive officer of GLAAD, a media advocacy organization focused on LGBTQ representation.
“That this mass shooting took place on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance, when we honor the memory of the trans people killed the prior year, deepens the trauma and tragedy for all in the LGBTQ community,” Ellis continued. “The media must stop spreading misinformation and elevate the truth that LGBTQ people exist, belong and want to live in peace and safety. Elected officials and corporate leaders must act immediately to prioritize this truth, and protect everyone’s safety.”
A local LGBTQ group, One Colorado, said in a tweet: “To the courageous Club Q community who experienced this nightmare — I see you, One Colorado is here for you, and your LGBTQ+ community stands with you.”
Local leaders react
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who in 2018 was the first openly gay man elected governor and is currently quarantining with Covid, called the shooting “horrific, sickening, and devastating” in a statement released Sunday morning.
“My heart breaks for the family and friends of those lost, injured, and traumatized in this horrific shooting,” he said, adding that “every state resource is available to local law enforcement in Colorado Springs.”
“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,” Polis, a Democrat, said. “Colorado stands with our LGTBQ community and everyone impacted by this tragedy as we mourn together.”
“We have to protect LGBTQ lives from this hate,” Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., tweeted.
“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 Bennet, D-Colo., said on Twitter.
Other local leaders also shared their outrage and condolences on Sunday.
“We have so much work to do to stop this from happening again,” Rep. Judy Amabile, a Colorado state lawmaker who represents Boulder said on Twitter.
“My heart is with our LGBTQ+ community as we all reel from this violence,” Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., wrote in a tweet.
Rep. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., one of the first gay Black men elected to Congress, tweeted that he was “outraged” by the shooting.
“Members of the LGBTQ community deserve to live full lives,” Jones tweeted.
This is a developing story. Please check back for details.