Patrons of a shooting at a gay club hit a gunman with his own gun

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — As bullets ripped through a Colorado Springs gay nightclub, killing five people and injuring many others, a patron who had been celebrating moments earlier rushed into action, grabbing a pistol from the suspect, hitting him with it and stopping pinned him down until the police arrived minutes later.

He was one of at least two clients who police and city officials credit with stopping the shooter and limiting the bloodshed in Saturday night’s shooting at Club Q, a well-known LGBTQ community in the conservative-leaning city.

“Had it not been for that individual’s stepping in, this could have been an order of magnitude more tragic,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers told The Associated Press.

Police identified the suspected shooter as 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich, who was in custody and being treated for injuries.

A police officer said the suspect used an AR-15-style semi-automatic weapon in the attack, but a handgun and extra ammo magazines were also seized. The officer was unable to publicly discuss details of the investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Club Q thanked their Facebook page for the “quick responses from heroic customers who overpowered the shooter and ended this hate attack.” Investigators are still determining a motive and whether it should be prosecuted as a hate crime, said El Paso County District Attorney Michael Allen. The charges against the suspect will likely include first-degree murder, he said.

Questions have already been raised as to why authorities didn’t try to take away Aldrich’s guns in 2021, when he was arrested after his mother reported he threatened her with a homemade bomb and other weapons. Though authorities said no explosives were found at the time, gun control advocates wonder why police didn’t try to trigger Colorado’s “red flag” law, which would have allowed authorities to seize the guns his mother says that he had her. There are also no prosecutors who have ever brought criminal kidnappings and threatened charges against Aldrich.

Of the 25 injured at Club Q, at least seven were in critical condition, authorities said. Some were injured trying to escape, but it is unclear whether all were shot, said a police spokesman. Suthers said there was “reason for hope” all hospital patients would recover.

The shooting brings back memories of the 2016 massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which killed 49 people. Colorado has seen several mass killings, including at Columbine High School in 1999, at a movie theater in suburban Denver in 2012, and at a convenience store in Boulder last year.

It was the sixth mass killing this month and happened in a year as the nation was rocked by the death of 21 in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

Authorities were called to Club Q at 11:57pm on Saturday with a report of a shooting and the first officer arrived at midnight.

Joshua Thurman said he was at the club with about two dozen other people dancing when the shooting started. He initially thought it was part of the music until he heard another gunshot and said he saw the flash of a gun muzzle.

Thurman, 34, said he ran with another person to a dressing room where someone was already hiding. They locked the door, turned off the light and got on the ground, but could hear the violence unfolding, including the gunman’s punches, he added.

“I could have lost my life – for what? What was the purpose?” he said as tears rolled down his cheeks. “We just had fun. We weren’t out there to harm anyone. We were in our space, our community, our home, enjoying ourselves like everyone else.”

Investigators are looking into whether anyone helped the suspect before the attack, Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said. He said well wishers who intervened during the attack were “heroic” and prevented further deaths.

Club Q is a gay and lesbian nightclub that offers a drag show on Saturdays, according to its website. Club Q’s Facebook page said the planned entertainment included a “punk and alternative show” ahead of a birthday dance party with an all-ages drag brunch on Sunday.

Drag events have recently become a focus of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and protests, as opponents, including politicians, have suggested excluding children from them, falsely claiming they are used to “grooming” children.

In order to support a hate crime charge against Aldrich, prosecutors would need to show that he was motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. So far, the suspect has been uncooperative during interviews with investigators and has not yet provided them with clear insight into the motivation for the attack, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

President Joe Biden said that while the motive for the shootings is not yet clear, “we know that the LGBTQI+ community has faced horrendous hate violence in recent years.”

“Places that should be safe places of acceptance and celebration should never become places of terror and violence,” he said. “We cannot and must not tolerate hate.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who became the first openly gay man to be elected US governor in 2018, called the shooting “disgusting.”

“My heart breaks for the family and friends of those lost, injured and traumatized,” Polis said.