At least five people were killed and another 25 were injured in a shooting late Saturday at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs.
The suspected shooter, 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich, is in custody, the chief of the Colorado Springs police department, Adrian Vasquez, said at a news conference on Sunday morning.
Aldrich immediately began shooting when he entered the club about 11.55pm Saturday, and at least two patrons quickly confronted him and subdued him, Vazquez said. “We owe them a great debt of thanks,” he said.
The motive for the attack was not immediately clear. Whether or not it was a hate crime is part of the investigation into the attack, Vasquez said.
Joe Biden issued a statement on Sunday in which the president said “we must drive out the inequities that contribute to violence against” the LGBTQ community.
“While no motive in this attack is yet clear, we know that the [LGBTQ] community has been subjected to horrific hate violence in recent years,” Biden said. “Gun violence continues to have a devastating and particular impact on [LGBTQ] communities across our nation and threats of violence are increasing.”
Police said that at least two firearms were recovered on the scene, and that a long rifle was used during the shooting. Only one person appeared to be involved in the attack, the local district attorney, Michael Allen, said on Sunday.
The New York Times reported that the attacker wore body armor, and he was firing a long gun in the style of an AR-15.
Nearly 40 police officers responded to calls for help from the club, officials added. For his part, Aldrich on Sunday was at a hospital being treated for injuries.
Among those injured, several were still in critical condition, hospital officials said Sunday. Five who were treated at Penrose hospital in Colorado Springs had injuries to their extremities, and two had been released, said William Plauth, the facility’s chief medical officer.
Ten people were being treated at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central, said David Steinbruner, that facility’s chief medical officer.
Officials first said at least 18 people were wounded, though that number was increased after an update later in the day.
The attack – which the FBI is helping to investigate – took place at Club Q, a club that had a weekly drag show scheduled on Saturday evenings, according to an archived version of its website. A punk and alternative show was planned and Saturday evening, followed by a birthday dance party starting at 11pm, according to the club’s Facebook page. Law enforcement officials described the club as a “safe haven” during a press briefing on Sunday.
Police received a call with a report of a shooting just before midnight and the first officers arrived on the scene minutes later. The suspect was detained at 12.02am, law enforcement officials said.
A drag brunch was scheduled for Sunday morning. Sunday is also the transgender day of remembrance, an annual observance since 1999 in honor of transgender people who were killed in acts of anti-transgender violence.
“Club Q is devastated by the senseless attack on our community. Our prayers and thoughts are with all the victims and their families and friends,” the club wrote on its Facebook page. “We thank the quick reactions of heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack.”
Joshua Thurman, 34, told reporters he was at Club Q celebrating his birthday on Saturday night and heard shots as he was dancing.
He ran into the dressing room, locked the doors, and turned off the lights. He said he could hear the gunman being beaten up “by someone I assumed tackled him” as well as the police when they came in.
“This is our only safe space in the Springs. So for this to get shot up, like what are we gonna do now?” he told the local ABC affiliate. “What are we gonna do now? Where are we gonna go? Yeah, we can rebuild and come together and this. But what about those people that lost their lives for no reason? The other 18 that were injured – I could have been one of them.”
Local news reports show that someone with the same name and age as the suspect was arrested in 2021 and charged with two counts of felony menacing and three counts of first-degree kidnapping. His neighborhood was evacuated as part of a bomb scare after his mother reported that he was threatening to harm her with a homemade bomb.
Police declined to comment on those reports on Sunday.
Attempts to contact a woman with whom Aldrich lived with at two different addresses were not immediately successful, with phone numbers either being deactivated or going directly to voicemail.
Aldrich registered to vote in May of last year. He did not declare an affiliation with any political party in that registration.
But social media posts under his mother’s name, Laura Voepel, describe the former Republican California state assembly member Randy Voepel as his grandfather.
Some called for Randy Voepel’s expulsion from the state assembly after he compared the 6 January 2021, attack on the US Capitol to the American revolutionary war. Voepel lost his seat to a primary challenger in August.
The attack came amid growing fears of violence and intimidation toward drag queens. Those fears were sparked by Republicans who have targeted drag queens with legislation that would ban drag shows entirely, prohibit drag story hours at libraries that are meant to familiarize children with them, and bar minors from attending drag shows.
There is a history of attacks at LGBTQ venues in the US. In 2016, a gunman killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 at a gay nightclub in Orlando in one of the deadliest attacks in US history.
Colorado’s governor, Jared Polis, called the shooting “horrific, sickening, and devastating”.
“My heart breaks for the family and friends of those lost, injured, and traumatized in this horrific shooting,” Polis added in a statement. “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. Colorado stands with our LGTBQ community and everyone impacted by this tragedy as we mourn together.”
The Denver Broncos professional American football team said it would have a moment of silence for Sunday’s victims before their game later that day.
The first openly gay elected congressman from Illinois, Eric Sorensen, tweeted in reaction on Sunday: “As we pray for those fighting for life, we must use loud voices to stand up against hate. Our country must turn down the hateful rhetoric aimed at our LGBTQ community.”
Another powerful reaction came from the Cleveland news anchor Mike Brookbank, who tweeted: “Before coming out, bars and clubs like #ClubQ in Colorado Springs created an environment where I felt comfortable being myself. They’re places that create & celebrate community when you often feel lost and confused. When I lived in the Springs, I went to Club Q. I’m gutted.”
There have now been 601 mass shootings in the US in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as a case where four or more people are shot and wounded or killed, not including the shooter.