Five people were killed and at least 18 injured after a shooter opened fire at a Colorado Springs, Colorado, gay nightclub Saturday night, police said.
Colorado Springs Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Pamela Castro said that police received a phone call about an active shooting at Club Q shortly before midnight.
Police arrived at the scene within three minutes of the call, and within the next two minutes, police said, officers entered the club and subdued the suspect. He was in custody Sunday.
Colorado Springs Chief of Police Adrian Vasquez said Sunday that two "heroic" patrons confronted the shooter in the club and helped stop him from killing more people.
"Their actions clearly saved lives," Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said at a press conference Sunday.
Vasquez identified the shooter as 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich and said two firearms were found at the scene, including a long rifle.
This isn't the first time Aldrich came to the attention of law enforcement. In June 2021, he was arrested on charges of felony menacing and first-degree kidnapping for "threatening to cause harm to [his mother] with a homemade bomb, multiple weapons, and ammunition," according to a press release from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.
The district attorney's office in Colorado Springs declined to answer questions about the 2021 arrest and said it is currently investigating. The Colorado court system had no public records under Aldrich's name, suggesting that charges were never filed.
Photos and videos posted on social media show a heavy police presence outside Club Q on Saturday night.
"Club Q is a safe haven for our LGBTQ citizens," Vasquez said Sunday. "Every citizen has a right to feel safe and secure in our city … without fear of being harmed or treated poorly."
Vasquez said this is an ongoing investigation and would not say whether the incident is a hate crime.
Vasquez did not identify the victims, saying that officers are working to notify families first. The FBI is assisting in the investigation, he added.
Seven of the injured victims were transported to Centura Penrose Hospital, a hospital spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. Two are in critical condition, another two are now in stable condition, and three have been discharged.
A spokesperson for another hospital, UCHealth Memorial, told BuzzFeed News that it is currently caring for 11 patients as of noon local time. They did not share details about the patients' conditions.
A man named Joshua, who told KRDO-TV he had been on the club’s dance floor when the shooting began, said he initially mistook the sounds of gunfire for music. When he realized what was happening, he ran into a dressing room in the club, where he hid with two other people.
“I made them lock the doors, and we got down on the ground and cut off the lights immediately,” Joshua said. “We heard everything — we heard more shots fired, we heard the assailant being beat up by someone that I assume tackled him, we heard the police come in, we heard them yelling at him, we heard them saying [to] check certain people because they’re critical.”
Joshua said he was supposed to be in Denver on Saturday but came back to Colorado Springs a day early. He went to Club Q that night to celebrate his birthday, a place where he said he’s met many of his closest friends.
“This is our only safe space here in the Springs,” he said through tears. "And so, for this to get shot up, what are we gonna do now? Where are we gonna go? Yeah, we can rebuild and come together, but what about those people that lost their lives for no reason [and] the other 18 that were injured? I could’ve been one of them."
According to its Facebook page, Club Q was hosting a “Drag Divas” show Saturday night. The following day, to commemorate Transgender Day of Remembrance, the club had planned to hold an all-ages musical drag brunch and an evening drag show.
"Club Q is devastated by the senseless attack on our community," the club posted on its Facebook page following the attack. "Our prays 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."
Colorado Springs has long been known for its conservative political base, and the evangelical Focus on the Family is based there. Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert, known for her anti-Muslim comments and pro-gun activism, represents a neighboring district in Congress and has regularly fanned anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, calling gender-inclusive education "grooming," describing drag shows as "depravity," and telling drag queens to stay away from children.
On Sunday, she tweeted that the victims and their families would be in her prayers.
In a statement, GLAAD said this "unspeakable attack has robbed countless people of their friends and family and an entire community's sense of safety." The fact that it occurred "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," GLAAD added.
"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," the organization said.
Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis — the first openly gay governor in the US — called the shooting "horrific, sickening, and devastating" in a statement Sunday morning, saying his "heart breaks for the family and friends of those lost, injured, and traumatized in this horrific shooting."
"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 said. "Colorado stands with our LGTBQ community and everyone impacted by this tragedy as we mourn together."
President Joe Biden said in a statement that he and first lady Jill Biden were praying for the victims and their families. He also emphasized the need for "an assault weapons ban to get weapons of war off America’s streets" and an end to violence against the LGBTQ community, particularly trans women of color.
"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.
"Today, yet another community in America has been torn apart by gun violence," he continued. "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? We must address the public health epidemic of gun violence in all of its forms."
The American Public Health Association says gun violence in the US is a public health crisis. It is a leading cause of premature death in the country, responsible for more than 38,000 deaths annually. As of Nov. 20, at least 39,358 people have died from gun violence this year, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.
The number of people injured has been updated after police provided new information.