COLORADO SPRINGS — At least five people were killed and 25 were injured after a man with a rifle walked into an LGBTQ nightclub and opened fire, according to law enforcement officials, who credited one or more clubgoers with subduing the shooter before more people were hurt.
The FBI is assisting with the investigation, which officials said is in its early stages.
As of Sunday morning, local and federal officials were trying to piece together details about the attack, including what may have led the gunman to the club, the suspect’s criminal history, and how the shooter came to possess the weapon officials say was used in the attack.
Charges in the case will probably include first-degree murder, a conviction of which would carry a heavier punishment than under a hate-crime charge, District Attorney Michael Allen of the 4th Judicial District said Sunday.
The assault inside the club unfolded with blinding speed.
Around 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.
Colorado Springs Mayor John 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.”
One person inside the club just before midnight, Joshua Thurman, told The Washington Post that people were dancing as shots began to ring out.
“We heard the music and then we heard pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. That was it. So I kept on dancing,” said Thurman, 34. “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.”
A patron tackled the gunman inside the club and prevented him from killing more people, Nic Grzecka, one of the club’s co-owners, said in an interview Sunday. Grzecka said that he and his co-owner had reviewed surveillance video that showed the gunman entering the building and immediately starting to fire.
Grzecka said the shooting lasted no more than two minutes before a patron subdued the gunman and another helped hold him down. Police arrived about three minutes later, he said.
“I don’t even know the names of these people,” Grzecka said of the two patrons. “But what they did is incredible.”
Club Q had an “active-shooter protocol,” which Grzecka’s co-owner, Matthew Haynes, said had been “followed to the letter.” The two owners arrived at the scene minutes after the shooting, Grzecka said. They gave their surveillance camera footage to investigators.
At least two of the victims on Sunday were being treated for life-threatening injuries, said Penrose Hospital Chief Medical Officer Bill Plauth. Five other victims had injuries to their extremities, and two of them have been released, he said.
Officials did not identify the victims, pending notification of relatives.
“Colorado Springs is once again in mourning,” Suthers told reporters. He also praised the “one or more patrons” who “heroically intervened to subdue the suspect,” because “their actions clearly saved lives.”
Aldrich appears to have been known to local law enforcement officials and to have had at least one episode in which he allegedly threatened deadly violence.
A person with the same name, address and date of birth as the suspect was arrested in June 2021 and charged in connection with making a bomb threat in the Lorson Ranch community, a suburb of modest single-family homes on the southeastern outskirts of Colorado Springs in El Paso County, according to a sheriff’s office report at the time.
A woman had called the sheriff’s office to say her son was threatening to hurt her with a homemade bomb and other weapons, according to the report. After a nearly one-hour standoff, Aldrich surrendered without incident and no bomb was found, according to the sheriff’s office.
So far this year in the United States, there have been more than 600 mass shootings — where four or more people, not including the shooter, are injured or killed — according to the Gun Violence Archive. Not a single week in 2022 has passed without at least four mass shootings, according to data from the group.
The latest attack comes six years after 49 people were killed after a gunman opened fire inside Pulse nightclub, a popular establishment for the gay community in Orlando.
Club Q was hosting a punk and alternative musical show Saturday night and was scheduled to host an “All Ages Musical Drag Brunch” on Sunday intended to mark Transgender Day of Remembrance, according to a post on its Facebook page.
Transgender Day of Remembrance started in 1999 and pays homage to transgender people who were killed by anti-transgender violence, according to GLAAD, a gay rights organization.
After the shooting, the club said it is “devastated by the senseless attack on our community” and thankful for the “heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack.”
Gov. Jared Polis (D) said in a statement that “Colorado stands with our LGBTQ Community and everyone impacted by this tragedy as we mourn.” Polis was the first openly gay politician to be elected governor in the United States.
President Biden said in a statement Sunday that although the motive is not yet clear, “we know that gun violence has a particular impact on LGBTQI+ communities across our nation.” He added, “We must address the public health epidemic of gun violence in all forms,” and said that “we must drive out the inequities that contribute to violence against LGBTQI+ people.”
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), who has accused LGBT supporters of “grooming” children and in August criticized family-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.”
The shooting comes amid a rapid rise in anti-LGBTQ activity, which includes demonstrations and attacks.
As of Oct. 1, at least 32 transgender people have been shot or killed this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group based in Washington. The group said 50 transgender people were shot or killed by violent means in 2021, the highest total since the FBI began tracking hate crimes against transgender people in 2013.
At least one of the victims of the Club Q shooting, bartender Daniel Aston, was transgender.
Amid the rise in gun violence, some Colorado officials have sought to prevent people who are considered dangerous from legally buying and possessing guns, but the approach has not been fully embraced in the state.
In April 2019, Polis signed a red-flag law that gave citizens and police departments, the following year, the ability to petition a judge to have a Colorado resident’s weapons confiscated if the petitioner demonstrates that person is a danger to themselves or others. But Sheriff Bill Elder of El Paso County — which includes Colorado Springs — said that year that his department would not file any of those petitions.
The measure, Elder said at the time, failed to address what he thinks is the real problem behind American gun violence: mental health. The new law focused “on the tool instead of the crisis that brings the thing before the judge,” he said.
As of Sept. 28, there have been 348 red-flag cases in Colorado, the majority filed by police departments. The El Paso Sheriff’s Office told The Post that it has not filed for a single Extreme Risk Protection Order since the bill was signed into law.
The Colorado Springs Police Department has filed two petitions during that time. Neither department advertises the petitions on their websites.
Legally obtained weapons have frequently been stolen in the area, according to law enforcement records. Over 7,000 firearms have been stolen since 2017 in Colorado Springs, according to police department data. That is more than 20 times the national rate of firearm thefts, according to Justice Department 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.
The weekend attack in Colorado Springs, about 70 miles south of Denver, is the latest in a string of mass shootings in the state.
In 1999, two students shot and killed 12 classmates and a teacher at Columbine High School. More than 20 others were injured before the gunmen killed themselves. That shooting led many schools across the country to develop protocols for dealing with active shooters.
In 2001, a gunman opened fire at an RV park and a grocery store frequented by Mexican immigrants, killing four people and injuring three more before he surrendered to police. In 2007, a gunman killed four people and injured five at a Christian missionary training center in Arvada before killing two more at a megachurch in Colorado Springs. The gunman later killed himself.
In 2012, a shooter opened fire at a packed movie theater in Aurora, killing 12 and injuring 58 people, the largest number of casualties of any mass shooting at the time. In 2015, a gunman killed three people and injured nine others at a reproductive health clinic.
In March 2021, a gunman shot and killed 10 people at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder. He was later taken into custody. In December 2021, another gunman killed five people in a shooting rampage in the Denver area before he was fatally shot by a police officer.
A previous version of this article misstated the month in 2021 in which a gunman killed five people in the Denver area. It was December, not July.
Paybarah reported from New York; Brasch from Atlanta; Francis from London; and Hennessy-Fiske from Houston. Leo Sands in London; Robert Klemko in Colorado Springs; and Praveena Somasundaram, Joby Warrick, Hannah Allam, Júlia Ledur, Kate Rabinowitz and Annys Shin in Washington contributed to this report.
Mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado
What we know: The suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, will be formally charged at a hearing today. Aldrich is accused of fatally shooting five people and wounding 17 others at a Colorado Springs night club last month. Records show that Aldrich changed his name at age 15, obscuring a tumultuous past.
Remembering the victims: Officials on Monday identified the five victims killed in the Colorado Springs shooting. Their names are Daniel Aston, Raymond Green Vance, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh and Derrick Rump. Here’s how to help family members of the victims and survivors of the Club Q shooting.