Colorado gay bar shooting suspect faces murder, hate crime charges

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The man suspected of opening fire at a Colorado Springs gay nightclub was being held Monday on charges of murder and hate crimes, two days after the attack that left five people dead and 17 injured by gunfire.

Online court records showed Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, was facing five murder charges and five charges of committing a bias-motivated crime causing bodily harm in Saturday night’s attack at the Club Q. He remained hospitalized with unspecified injuries, police said.

The charges were preliminary and prosecutors did not file them in court. Hate crime charges would require proof that the shooter was motivated by bias, such as against the victims’ real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

The attack was stopped when a customer grabbed a handgun from Aldrich, hit him with it, and pinned him down until police arrived minutes later.

Court documents outlining what led to Aldrich’s arrest were sealed at the request of prosecutors, who said releasing details could jeopardize the investigation. Information on whether Aldrich had an attorney was not immediately available.

A law enforcement official said the suspect used an AR-15 type semi-automatic weapon, but a handgun and additional ammunition magazines were also recovered. The official could not publicly discuss details of the investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Officials said on Monday that 18 people were injured in the attack, not 25 as they originally said. Among them was a person whose wound was not a gunshot wound. Another victim had no visible injuries, they said.

Thirteen people remained hospitalized on Monday, officials said. Five people were treated and released.

Mayor John Suthers said there was “reason to hope” that all of the hospitalized victims would recover.

Questions were quickly raised about why authorities did not seek to take Aldrich’s guns away from him in 2021, when he was arrested after his mother reported he had threatened her with a homemade bomb and other weapons.

Although authorities at the time said no explosives were found, gun control advocates have questioned why police did not use Colorado’s “red flag” laws to seize the weapons his mother says she has. There are no public record prosecutors ever advanced with kidnapping and threatening charges against Aldrich.

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

It was the sixth massacre this month, and it came a year when the nation was rocked by the deaths of 21 people in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

The violence has breached the comfortable confines of an entertainment venue long considered a safe haven for the LGBTQ community in the conservative-leaning city.

A makeshift memorial that sprung up in the hours after the attack continued to grow on Monday as a steady stream of mourners brought flowers and left messages in support of the LGBTQ community. The filming location remained cordoned off.

“It’s a reminder that love and acceptance still have a long way to go,” Colorado Springs resident Mary Nikkel told the site. “This growing monument to people is saying that what happened to you matters… We’re just not letting it go.”

The club was one of the few nightlife establishments for the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs, residents said. Authorities were called at 11:57 p.m. Saturday with multiple reports 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 gunfire started. He first thought it was part of the music, until he heard another gunshot and said he saw the flash of a gun barrel.

Thurman, 34, said he ran to a locker room where he hid with others. They locked the door, turned off the lights and got on the ground as they heard the violence unfold, including the subdued gunman.

“I could have lost my life – for what?” he said, tears streaming down his cheeks. “We weren’t hurting anyone. We were in our space, our community, our home, having fun like everyone else.”

Detectives were investigating if anyone had helped the suspect before the attack. Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said patrons who responded to the attack were “heroic” and prevented further deaths.

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

Drag events have recently become the focus of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and protests as opponents, including politicians, have proposed banning children from them, falsely claiming they are used for ” prepare” the children.

The shooting took place during Transgender Awareness Week and just at the start of Sunday’s Transgender Remembrance Day, when events around the world are held to mourn and remember transgender people lost to violence.

Colorado Springs, a city of about 480,000 people 110 miles south of Denver, is home to the US Air Force Academy and the US Olympic Training Center, as well as Focus on the Family, a major evangelical Christian ministry that lobbies against LGBTQ rights. The group condemned the shooting and said it “exposed the evil and wickedness inside the human heart”.

In 2015, three people were killed and eight injured at a Planned Parenthood clinic in the city when a gunman targeted the clinic for performing abortions.

Since 2006, there have been 523 massacres and 2,727 deaths as of Nov. 19, according to the Associated Press/USA Today database on US massacres.

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