COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A gunman entered a Colorado Springs LGBTQ club and immediately began firing with a semiautomatic rifle Saturday, killing five people and injuring 25, officials said.
Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez praised "at least two heroic people" inside Club Q who, he said, "confronted and fought with the suspect and were able to stop the suspect from continuing to kill and harm others."
"We owe them a great debt of thanks," Vasquez said at a news conference Sunday morning.
"Their actions clearly saved lives," Mayor John Suthers said later at the news conference.
Club owner Matthew Haynes told NBC News he never imagined “this level of hate” would descend on his club. He said the timing of the shooting worsens the situation with Thanksgiving on the horizon.
“Family members won’t be with their family members,” Haynes said.
Haynes opened the club 20 years ago to give people a place to gather and be themselves.
“We started it when there were darker days. We didn’t have a lot of rights and we needed places to have a community, and that’s what Club Q has been for 20 years,” Haynes said.
The suspect, whom officials identified as Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, was injured in the attack, apprehended and hospitalized, Sgt. Pamela Castro, the Colorado Springs Police Department spokeswoman, said.
Vasquez said the weapon used was a rifle made in the style of the Colt AR-15, a high-powered rifle developed for military use but first sold for sporting purposes. A handgun was also found at the scene, the chief said, but it wasn't immediately clear if it belonged to the suspect or someone else.
A man with the suspect's name and age was the subject of a June 2021 report of a bomb threat, according to a news release from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, which noted that the man's mother told authorities "her son was threatening to cause harm to her with a homemade bomb, multiple weapons, and ammunition."
The suspect in that case was inside a home about a mile from his mother's house, according to the sheriff's office, which added that officials evacuated nearby homes following the bomb threat. It took authorities more than three hours to get the suspect to surrender, and officials arrested him on two counts of felony menacing and three counts of first-degree kidnapping. No bombs were found, according to the sheriff's office.
It was not immediately clear how the case was adjudicated or whether it was dropped or delayed.
Officials at the news conference Sunday did not confirm whether the suspect in that case was the same one believed to be the shooter at Club Q.
But Howard Black, spokesman for the district attorney's office, said in an email that the previous case “is part of the investigation at this time,” and “additional information will be released as appropriate.”
The FBI was assisting on the scene, Castro said.
Vasquez said “at least two firearms were found at the scene” and that officials “are still working to identify the firearms and who they belong to.”
Castro said at the news conference that "numerous people" were transported to multiple hospitals by ambulance and police cruisers, and that hospital officials were helping police notify the family members of those injured.
By Sunday afternoon, 15 victims were being treated for injuries at two hospitals, officials said.
Eleven patients were being treated at Memorial Hospital Central, according to UCHealth public and media relations manager Kelli Christensen. Late Sunday afternoon, UCHealth said one person had been released, leaving 10 hospitalized.
Chief Medical Officer David Steinbruner said the injuries of those at Memorial Hospital Central included “multiple gunshot wounds” that left “several people” in the ICU.
Four victims were being treated at Penrose Hospital, spokesperson Lindsay Radford said. Two of those victims were in critical but stable condition, and the other two were in stable condition.
At the news conference earlier Sunday, Penrose Chief Medical Officer William Plauth said the five victims there who were not in critical condition "mainly had extremity injuries."
Twenty-five victims total were injured in the shooting, officials said.
District Attorney Michael Allen said that there is "no ongoing threat that we are aware of" and that the case will be officially transferred to his office in the coming days.
'A safe haven for our LGBTQ citizens'
Police responded to initial calls at 11:57 p.m. local time. Social media footage from across the street and verified by NBC News showed dozens of police vehicles and a fire truck deployed near the club.
The first officer arrived on the scene at midnight, and the suspect was detained two minutes later, officials said at a news conference Sunday morning.
Club Q was hosting a “Drag Divas” show followed by a DJ night on Saturday, according to its Facebook page.
On Sunday, according to its Facebook page, Club Q planned to host a Drag Brunch for all ages, as well as later performances to honor Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual observance that started in 1999 to honor the memory of transgender people killed in acts of anti-trans violence, according to GLAAD.
So far this year, at least 32 transgender people have been shot or killed, according to the Human Rights Campaign, though that count does not appear to include the Colorado Springs victims.
Drag performers have become a particular target of right-wing activists and politicians, who claim they “groom” children. Some politicians have proposed banning kids from drag events and criminally charging any parents who bring their kids to such events.
Vasquez called Club Q "a safe haven for our LGBTQ citizens."
Officials are investigating whether the shooting was a hate crime.
While the motive of the attack was not immediately known, it comes amid what President Joe Biden earlier this year called "rising hate and violence" against LGBTQ people.
Hate crimes against LGBTQ people were up 51% last year compared to 2020, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
The shooting comes six years after the 2016 massacre at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which left 49 people dead and dozens injured.
LGBTQ advocates spoke out against the shooting and in support of the victims Sunday.
"From Pulse to Colorado Springs to so many other lives stolen from us — this has occurred for far too long," the Human Rights Campaign’s incoming president, Kelley Robinson, said in a statement.
"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," said Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and chief executive officer of GLAAD, a media advocacy organization focused on LGBTQ representation.
Biden condemned the shooting in a lengthy statement in which he noted that while the motive in the shooting remains unclear, LGBTQ people, and transgender women of color in particular, face especially high rates of violence.
“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.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who as a candidate in the 2020 presidential election became the first openly gay candidate to run for the nation’s highest office, called the news of the shooting “sickening and heartbreaking” and part of a “pattern” in a tweet Sunday.
“We can not, will not, allow hate to win. We must end this in our time,” Buttigieg wrote. “No rest until all of us, including all of us in the LGBTQ+ community, can be, and feel, safe.”
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who in 2018 was the first openly gay man elected governor and is currently quarantining with Covid, called the shooting "horrific, sickening, and devastating" in a statement released Sunday morning.
"My heart breaks for the family and friends of those lost, injured, and traumatized in this horrific shooting," he said, adding that "every state resource is available to local law enforcement in Colorado Springs."
"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, a Democrat, said. "Colorado stands with our LGTBQ community and everyone impacted by this tragedy as we mourn together."
“We have to protect LGBTQ lives from this hate,” Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., tweeted.
"As we seek justice for this unimaginable act, we must do more to protect the LGBTQ community and stand firm against discrimination and hate in every form," Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said on Twitter.
Other local leaders also shared their outrage and condolences Sunday.
“We have so much work to do to stop this from happening again,” Rep. Judy Amabile, a Colorado state lawmaker who represents Boulder, said on Twitter.
“My heart is with our LGBTQ+ community as we all reel from this violence,” Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., wrote in a tweet.
Julianne McShane reported from Massachusetts, Andrew Blankstein from Los Angeles and Deon J. Hampton from Colorado Springs.