“Heroic” clubgoers fought and stopped a gunman shortly after he opened fire inside a LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing at least five people and injuring 18 others, police said on Sunday.
Police identified the suspect as Anderson Lee Aldrich, a 22-year-old man, who shot at patrons with a long rifle, a powerful weapon that can inflict devastating wounds. He was taken into police custody shortly after the shooting began and was being treated for injuries, according to officials.
Club Q, which describes itself as an adult-oriented gay and lesbian nightclub, called Saturday night’s events a “hate attack” in a statement on its Facebook page. Authorities said they were investigating whether the attack was motivated by hate.
Two firearms were found at Club Q, Colorado Springs Police Department Chief Adrian Vasquez said in a news conference on Sunday.
“Club Q is a safe haven for our LGBTQ citizens,” he said. “I’m so terribly saddened and heartbroken.”
Joshua Thurman choked up as he told reporters on Sunday that he was dancing in the club when he first heard the gunshots. He sought refuge in a dressing room and locked himself inside with other people, praying for his life and thinking about his loved ones.
“It’s supposed to be our safe place. A community shouldn’t have to go through something like this for us to come together,” Thurman told local media, adding that one of his friends was killed in the shooting.
“We must drive out the inequities that contribute to violence against LGBTQI+ people,” U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement. “We cannot and must not tolerate hate.”
Colorado Governor Jared Polis, who in 2018 became the first openly gay man in the country to be elected as a governor, commended the “brave individuals who blocked the gunman” in a statement released on Twitter in which he called the shooting “horrific, sickening, and devastating.”
Several of the injured were in critical condition and being treated at local hospitals, authorities said.
Police said the initial phone call about the shooting came in just before midnight, and that the suspect was apprehended within minutes.
Images of the scene after the shooting showed security and emergency vehicles with flashing blinkers parked on a street near the venue.
By 4 a.m. local time (1100 GMT), police had taped off the area around the club, which is located in a strip mall on the outskirts of Colorado Springs, the second-largest city in Colorado with a population of just over 480,000 people.
The Rocky Mountain state has a grim history of mass violence, including the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School and a 2012 rampage in a movie theater in a suburb of Denver.
The shooting at Club Q was reminiscent of the 2016 Pulse club massacre when a gunman killed 49 people at the gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, before he was shot dead by police. At the time, it was the worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history until a gunman killed 60 people at a music festival in Las Vegas in 2017.
The shooting in Colorado Springs unfolded as LGBTQ communities and allies around the world prepared to mark Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual recurrence to honor victims of transphobia.
Anxiety within many LGBTQ communities in the United States has risen amid a divisive political climate and after a string of threats and violent incidents targeting LGBTQ people and events in recent months.