A rifle-toting gunman opened fire during a drag show at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing five and injuring 25 before he was tackled by heroic patrons.
Authorities said the suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, was in custody. Although police did not provide a motive for the nation’s latest mass shooting, Club Q called it a “hate attack” in a statement.
The violence that unfolded just before midnight drew immediate comparisons to the 2016 shooting at the gay nightclub Pulse, which left 49 dead. It also came as drag shows have been condemned by some factions of the far right.
“This is a horrible crime and we have a suspect in custody. We must do this right and ensure justice is served,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said at a Sunday press conference.
Police said they were called to Club Q, in northeast of the city, by a flood of 911 calls. Two patrons had subdued the suspect, and cops who arrived within six minutes took him to the hospital to treat his injuries.
“Had that individual not intervened this could have been exponentially more tragic,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers told the Associated Press.
Suthers explained in more detail how the attacker was subdued: when a patron, sensing opportunity, grabbed a handgun from the suspect and hit him with it. That person, along with another, were able to subdue the gunman until police arrived.
Joshua Thurman, 34, was on the dance floor when he heard the gunshots and ran to a dressing room with a customer, locked the door and called police.
“We heard everything—more shots, people crying, glass breaking, windows being shattered. It was bad,” he told reporters. When the shooting stopped, he emerged to a nightmare: “Bodies laying on the ground, shattered glass everywhere, blood.”
A local drag artist called Del Lusional, who was compering the Saturday night drag show at Club Q, tweeted: “I never thought this would happen to me and my bar. I don’t know what to do with myself. I can’t stop hearing the shots.
“Walking through the bar that I call my home and seeing it…… like that... I hate this so much. I hate this so fucking much.”
Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said police found two rifles at the scene, he said, including a long rifle used in the attack.
A law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press that the suspect used an AR-15-style semiautomatic weapon during the attack. Also recovered were a handgun and additional ammunition magazines.
Few details about the suspect had emerged, but a man with the same name and age was arrested in Colorado Springs last year after his mother reported he threatened her with “a homemade bomb, multiple weapons and ammunition.”
The Associated Press reported that the arrest forced “neighbors in surrounding homes to evacuate while the bomb squad and crisis negotiators talked him into surrendering.”
Despite the neighborhood horror, “there is no record prosecutors ever moved forward with felony kidnapping and menacing charges against Aldrich,” it reported.
Calls to the suspect’s family by The Daily Beast were not returned.
In a statement posted on its Facebook page, Club Q said it was “devastated by the senseless attack on our community.”
It went on: “Our prays [sic] and 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.”
Of the 25 injured, two victims were in critical condition at a hospital. Not all of the injuries were due to gunshots; some victims may have been injured as they escaped.
The FBI confirmed its involvement in the investigation in a tweet. District Attorney Michael Allen confirmed the attack was being investigated as a potential hate crime but said a final declaration on the matter was premature.
President Joe Biden said in a statement that the “public health epidemic” of gun violence could no longer be tolerated, particularly when threats against LGBTQ communities are increasing.
“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,” he said. “Today, yet another community in America has been torn apart by gun violence. More families left with an empty chair at the table and hole in their lives that cannot be filled. When will we decide we’ve had enough?”
Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement Sunday that he spoke to Suthers and directed state resources to the city.
“This is horrific, sickening, and devastating,” Polis wrote. “Colorado stands with our LGBTQ Community and everyone impacted by this tragedy as we mourn.”
Rep. Doug Lamborn, who represents the area, decried the “senseless loss of life” in a statement to The Daily Beast and urged prayers to the victims. Lamborn has repeatedly lambasted measures to restrict gun access and, in a 2019 Daily Signal column, urged for the defunding of PBS over an Arthur episode that featured a gay wedding.
According to promotional posters the club put on its Facebook page earlier in the day, on Sunday the venue had been due to host an “All Ages Musical Drag Brunch.” It also planned an event commemorating Transgender Day of Remembrance on Sunday night.
Thurman, the club-goer who survived, said one of his friends was killed.
“As a Black kid it’s taboo to be gay, so coming here, this is one of the first places that I felt accepted to be who I am,” he said. “This is our home. This is our space. We come here to enjoy ourselves, and this happens?”
Gun violence has devastated Colorado Springs over the last decade. A gunman shot down six people at a birthday party on Mother’s Day last year before he killed himself, and in 2015, three were killed and nine were injured in a shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility. Elsewhere in the state, 12 people were killed at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012.
The tragedy also comes nearly five and a half years after the Pulse massacre, carried out by Omar Mateen in the name of the Islamic State. That shooting was the second deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.