Colorado Springs gay bar shooting suspect facing murder and hate crime charges
Of the 25 injured at Club Q, at least seven were in critical condition, authorities said. Some were hurt trying to flee, and it was unclear if all of them were shot, a police spokesperson said. Suthers told The Associated Press there was “reason to hope” all of those hospitalised would recover.
The shooting rekindled memories of the 2016 massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people. Colorado has experienced several mass killings, including at Columbine High School in 1999, a movie theatre in suburban Denver in 2012 and at a Boulder supermarket last year.
It was the sixth mass killing this month and came in a year when the nation was shaken by the deaths 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 in the club with about two dozen other people and was dancing when the shots began. He initially thought it was part of the music, until he heard another shot and said he saw the flash of a gun muzzle.
Thurman, 34, said he ran with another person to a dressing room where someone already was hiding. They locked the door, turned off the lights and got on the floor but could hear the violence unfolding, including the gunman being subdued, he added.
“I could have lost my life — over what? What was the purpose?” he said as tears ran down his cheeks. “We were just enjoying ourselves. We weren’t out harming anyone. We were in our space, our community, our home, enjoying ourselves like everybody else does.”
Detectives were examining whether anyone had helped the suspect before the attack, Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said. He said patrons who intervened during the attack were “heroic” and prevented more deaths.
Club Q is a gay and lesbian nightclub that features a drag show on Saturdays, according to its website. Club Q’s Facebook page said planned entertainment included a “punk and alternative show” preceding a birthday dance party, with a Sunday all-ages drag brunch.
Drag events have become a focus of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and protests recently as opponents, including politicians, have proposed banning children from them, falsely claiming they’re used to “groom” children.
A hate-crime charge against Aldrich requires proving he was motivated by the victims’ actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
President Joe Biden said that while the motive for the shootings was not yet clear, “we know that the LGBTQI+ community has been subjected to horrific hate violence in recent years”.
“Places that are supposed to be safe spaces of acceptance and celebration should never be turned into places of terror and violence,” he said. “We cannot and must not tolerate hate.”
Colorado Governor Jared Polis, who became the first openly gay man to be elected a US governor in 2018, called the shooting “sickening.”
“My heart breaks for the family and friends of those lost, injured and traumatised,” Polis said.
A makeshift memorial sprang up Sunday near the club, with flowers, a stuffed animal, candles and a sign saying “Love over hate” next to a rainbow-coloured heart.
Seth Stang was buying flowers for the memorial when he was told that two of the dead were his friends. The 34-year-old transgender man said it was like having “a bucket of hot water getting dumped on you. ... I’m just tired of running out of places where we can exist safely.”
Ryan Johnson, who lives near the club and was there last month, said it was one of only two nightspots for the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs. “It’s kind of the go-to for Pride,” the 26-year-old said of the club.
Colorado Springs, a city of about 480,000 located 110 kilometres south of Denver, is home to the US Air Force Academy and the US Olympic Training Centre, as well as Focus on the Family, a prominent evangelical Christian ministry that lobbies against LGBTQ rights. The group condemned the shooting and said it “exposes the evil and wickedness inside the human heart.”
In November 2015, three people were killed and eight wounded at a Planned Parenthood clinic in the city when authorities say a gunman targeted the clinic because it performed abortions.
The shooting came during Transgender Awareness Week and just at the start of Sunday’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, when events around the world are held to mourn and remember transgender people lost to violence.
Since 2006, there have been 523 mass killings and 2727 deaths as of November 19, according to The Associated Press/USA Today database on mass killings in the US.