What started as a joyful night of laughter and dancing turned into a scene of terror when a gunman walked into an LGBTQ club and immediately opened fire.
“I looked up and saw the silhouette of a man holding a gun at the entrance to the club — probably about 15 feet from me,” said Michael Anderson, who was a bartender at Club Q in Colorado. Springs, Colorado, late Saturday night.
“I hid behind the bar and as I did, glass started spitting all around me.”
Within seconds, his friend and bar supervisor Daniel Aston was fatally injured.
Four other people were killed and 25 others were injured in a rampage that stirred memories of the 2016 Pulse Massacre in Orlando, in which 49 people at this LGBTQ nightclub were killed.
Anderson said it took him a while to process the horror. When he did, he thought his life was over.
“There was a time when I was afraid that I would not come out of this club alive. I have never prayed so sincerely and quickly in my life, because I was anticipating this result and I was afraid of this result. ,” Anderson told CNN on Monday.
“While I was praying…the gunshots stopped.”
Two heroic people managed to subdue the shooter, Anderson, preventing an even greater tragedy.
“I saw what I think was probably the shooter lying on the ground, being beaten, kicked and shouted at by two very brave people,” Anderson said.
He said he doesn’t know the identity of the people who stopped the shooting.
“But I hope to find out one day, because I really believe that these two people saved my life,” he said.
Police rushed to the scene around midnight and found that at least two people had shot the shooter, Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said.
In addition to the five people killed, 25 others were injured – including 19 who were shot, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said.
No motive for the attack has been disclosed.
A 22-year-old suspect is in custody and was treated at a hospital on Sunday, but he was not shot by officers, police said.
Investigators are still working to determine a motive, including whether the shooting was a hate crime, Vasquez said.
The brutal attack came on the eve of Transgender Remembrance Day – observed in honor of the lives of trans people lost to anti-trans violence and hatred.
Although police have not identified any victims, Daniel Aston’s parents told the Denver Post that their son was killed while serving as a bartender at Club Q on Saturday.
Jeff and Sabrina Aston told the Post their son moved to Colorado Springs two years ago to be closer to them and got a job at the club, which is minutes from their home.
Anderson, the bartender who survived the attack, said Aston wasn’t just his boss – he was also a friend for years.
“He was the best supervisor anyone could have asked for. He made me want to work and he made me want to be part of the positive culture we were trying to create there,” Anderson said.
“He was an amazing person. He was a light in my life. It’s always surreal that we even talk about him in the past tense.
Colorado Springs, the state’s second-largest city with just under 500,000 people, is home to military bases and the headquarters of Focus on the Family, the conservative Christian group that says homosexuality and same-sex marriage are sins.
And until recently, Club Q was the only LGBTQ club in town.
“This space is really the only place in Colorado Springs where the LGBTQ+ community can come together and be ourselves,” said Cole Danielson, who worked as a drag king at Club Q.
Last month, Danielson and his wife celebrated their wedding there.
But now, “our safety as gay people in Colorado Springs is now in question,” Danielson said. “I’m afraid to be myself as a trans man in this community.”
Lifetime Colorado Springs resident Tiana Nicole Dykes called Club Q a “home away from home full of chosen family.”
“This space means the world to me,” said Dykes, who has close friends who were killed or seriously injured in the shooting.
“The energy, the people, the message. It’s an amazing place that didn’t deserve this tragedy.
Antonio Taylor, a drag queen and Colorado Springs resident, said the welcoming community at Club Q helped them feel ready to hang out.
“It was one of the places where I didn’t have to worry about how I looked or people hating me for who I am,” they said, adding, “I have a stomach ache that the only place I knew I was safe was made dangerous.
Taylor was scheduled to perform at the club’s Musical Drag Brunch on Sunday. But the mass attack forced Club Q to shut down indefinitely.
Jewels Parks, who has been part of the Colorado drag scene for over a year, often performs at Club Q under her drag name Dezzy Dazzles and considers the venue a space where the cruelty of the outside world was not the place to be. welcome.
“Club Q, along with all other LGBTQIA+ bars, represents a safe space for a community that has felt unsafe and rejected for most of its life,” Parks told CNN.
“To have our safe place ripped away and lose members of our community is a whole different kind of injury,” Parks said. “Right now we need to love each other a little more and be kind to each other.”
Police identified the suspect as Anderson Lee Aldrich. He had a long rifle during the attack and two firearms were found at the scene, Vasquez said.
Although he opened fire as soon as he entered the club, the chief said, the shooter’s rampage was over within minutes as witnesses subdued him.
“At least two heroic people inside the club confronted and fought off the suspect and were able to arrest the suspect,” Vasquez said. “We owe them a great debt of thanks.”
While Aldrich remains hospitalized, questions have emerged about a previous encounter with law enforcement – and whether anything could have been done to help prevent the bloodshed.
In June 2021, Aldrich was arrested in connection with a bomb threat that led to a standoff at his mother’s home, according to his mother’s former landlord and a press release from the local County Sheriff’s Office. El Paso.
Two law enforcement sources confirmed that the suspect in the nightclub shooting and the bomb threat were the same person based on name and date of birth.
During the 2021 incident, sheriff’s deputies responded to a report from the man’s mother that he “threatened to harm her with a pipe bomb, multiple weapons and ammunition,” the statement said.
Deputies called the suspect, but he “refused to comply with orders to surrender”, the statement said, leading them to evacuate nearby homes.
Several hours after the initial police call, the Sheriff’s Crisis Bargaining Unit managed to get Aldrich out of the house he was in, and he was arrested after walking through the front door. Authorities found no explosives in the house.
CNN’s attempts to reach Aldrich’s mother for comment were unsuccessful.
It was not immediately clear how the bomb threat case was resolved, but the Colorado Springs Gazette reported that the district attorney’s office said no formal charges were filed in the case. The district attorney’s office did not respond to a CNN request for comment.
Aldrich also called the Gazette to try to have an earlier article about the 2021 incident removed from its website, the newspaper reported. “There is absolutely nothing to it, the case has been dropped and I ask that you either delete or update the story,” Aldrich said in a voicemail, according to the Gazette.
In 2019, Colorado passed a controversial red flag law that allows family members, a roommate, or law enforcement to ask a judge to temporarily seize a person’s firearms if they are considered a risk.
When asked why the red flag law was not used in Aldrich’s case, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said it was “too early to make any decisions” on the case. ‘affair.
“We are working hard to educate and raise awareness about the red flag law,” Weiser said.
“I don’t have enough information to know exactly what the officers knew,” he said. “What we can do is make sure we accept this as a call to action to better educate on this law to ensure that law enforcement understands it and is able to use it to protect lives.”