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 18 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.
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.
Of the 18 people injured, several are in critical condition with gunshot wounds, though the exact number was unclear, officials said.
The suspect is being treated at a hospital, police added. Officers did not shoot at him, police 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.”
The location of the shooting 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.
Club Q thanks ‘heroic customers that subdued the gunman’
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.
On Sunday, 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.”
The club opened in 2002 and was, until recently, the only LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs, the state’s second-most populous city with just under 500,000 residents.
“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).”
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, 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.”
CNN’s Michelle Watson and Rosa Flores contributed to this report.