(CNN) -- A 22-year-old gunman entered an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, just before midnight Saturday and immediately opened fire, killing at least five people and injuring 18 others, before patrons confronted and stopped him, police said Sunday.
The suspect in the shooting at Club Q was identified as Anderson Lee Aldrich, according to Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez. He used a long rifle in the shooting, and two firearms were found at the scene, Vasquez said.
At least two people inside the club confronted and fought the gunman and prevented further violence, Vasquez said. "We owe them a great debt of thanks," he said.
Joshua Thurman told CNN affiliate KOAA he was inside the club dancing when he heard gunshots and saw the muzzle flash of a long rifle being fired.
"I thought it was the music, so I kept dancing," he said. "Then I heard another set of shots, and then me and a customer ran to the dressing room, got on the ground and locked the doors, and called the police immediately."
The violence lasted just minutes. Police received numerous 911 calls starting at 11:56 p.m., officers were dispatched at 11:57 p.m., an officer arrived at midnight and the suspect was detained at 12:02 a.m., police said. A total of 39 patrol officers responded, police said, and Fire Department Captain Mike Smaldino said 11 ambulances went to the scene.
Of the 18 people injured, several are in critical condition with gunshot wounds, though the exact number was unclear, officials said.
The suspect is being treated at a hospital, police added. Officers did not shoot at him, police said.
The location of the shooting is reminiscent of the 2016 attack at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in which a gunman who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State killed 49 people and wounded at least 53. Colorado has been the site of some of the most heinous mass shootings in US history, including the 1999 shooting in Columbine High School and the 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora.
Police said they were investigating whether the attack was a hate crime and noted Club Q's relationship with the LGBTQ+ community.
"Club Q is a safe haven for our LGBTQ+ citizens," Vasquez said. "Every citizen has a right to feel safe and secure in our city, to go about our beautiful city without fear of being harmed or treated poorly."
In a statement on social media, Club Q said it was "devastated by the senseless attack on our community" and thanked "the quick reactions of heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack."
Club Q posted earlier in the day that its Saturday night lineup would feature a punk and alternative show at 9 p.m. followed by a dance party at 11. The club also planned to hold a drag brunch and a drag show on Sunday for Transgender Day of Remembrance. The club's website now says it will be closed until further notice.
Club Q was safe space for LGBTQ+ community
Club Q opened in 2002 and was, until recently, the only LGBTQ+ club in Colorado Springs, the state's second-most populous city with just under 500,000 residents.
"Proudly queer Club Q has stood as a bastion of the LGBTQ+ community where others have fallen," 5280 magazine reported in a story last year. "It's where LGBTQ+ folks go for drag performances, dance parties, and drinks, and it supports the community with event sponsorships, pride celebrations, charity drives, and more. While the club has recently shifted to offering more low-key 'dinner and a show' vibes before 10 p.m., it's still known as the place for queer young adults to go and get their dance on."
In a July 2020 interview with Colorado Springs Indy, Club Q owner Nic Grzecka explained why he and his business partner opened the establishment.
"The whole idea of this place (Club Q) is to have a safe place -- to get a permanent one in the city," Grzecka said.
He and his business partner toured other successful LGBTQ+ spaces and noted a common theme: "They were gay as hell," Grzecka told the outlet. "They had go-go dancers and drag queens and bartenders in jockstraps. We knew we had to be gay as hell (to survive)."
The venue also hosts events for people of all ages, including brunch and planned an upcoming Thanksgiving event.
Joseph Sheldon told CNN affiliate KRDO he visited the club Saturday night to drop off a friend about 10 minutes before the gunman opened fire.
"This is a bar I've gone to multiple times in my life since I became the age of 18. A lot of these people at the bar are friends, they are family, a lot are people I've become close to," he said.
"Whether it's a hate crime or not, it's hard to see that this is going on, that this happened in my community, that this happened at a place that I've gone to and felt safe, that this happened at a place where if I stayed 10 more minutes, I would have been right in the middle of it."
Lifelong Colorado Springs resident Tiana Nicole Dykes called Club Q "a second home full of chosen family."
"I'm there every other week if not every single week. This space means the world to me. The energy, the people, the message. It's an amazing place that didn't deserve this tragedy," Dykes told CNN on Sunday. "Something like a mass shooting at an LGBT+ safe space is damaging beyond belief. There's feelings of disrespect, disbelief, and just pure shock. Nobody ever thinks it's gonna happen to them, and sometimes it does."
Police investigating suspect's past
A man with the same name and of the same age as the shooting suspect was arrested in June of last year in connection with a bomb threat, according to a statement from law enforcement at the time.
When asked at a news conference Sunday if it was the same person, officials said they had to follow protocol before releasing any information on prior cases.
According to a June 2021 news release from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, an Anderson Lee Aldrich was arrested that month on charges of felony menacing and first-degree kidnapping.
Sheriff's deputies responded to a report by the man's mother that he was "threatening to cause harm to her with a homemade bomb, multiple weapons, and ammunition," according to the release. Deputies called the suspect, and he "refused to comply with orders to surrender," the release said, leading them to evacuate nearby homes.
Several hours after the initial police call, the sheriff's crisis negotiations unit was able to get Aldrich to leave the house, and he was arrested after walking out the front door. Authorities did not find any explosives in the home.
It was not immediately clear how the case was resolved.
Politicians offer support to LGBTQ+ community
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat and the nation's first openly gay governor, issued a statement Sunday calling the attack "horrific, sickening and devastating" and offered state resources to local law enforcement.
"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," he said. "Colorado stands with our LGTBQ community and everyone impacted by this tragedy as we mourn together."
Colorado's two US senators, both Democrats, offered condolences in statements and said more should be done for the LGBTQ+ community.
"We have to protect LGBTQ+ lives from this hate," Sen. John Hickenlooper said.
"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 Bennett said.
President Joe Biden also issued a statement saying he was praying for the victims and their families.
"While no motive in this attack is yet clear, we know that the LGBTQI+ community has been subjected to horrific hate violence in recent years. Gun violence continues to have a devastating and particular impact on LGBTQI+ communities across our nation and threats of violence are increasing," Biden said in the written statement.
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