Several patrons have been credited with saving countless lives during a mass shooting at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The shooting, which happened Saturday night at Club Q, claimed the lives of five people and injured dozens more. But the quick thinking of clubgoers saved many more lives, authorities say.
At least one patron confronted the suspect and grabbed his handgun before hitting him with it and pinning him down until police arrived minutes later, reports The Associated Press.
That customer was one of at least two individuals who city officials say stopped the gunman and were able to limit further bloodshed.
“Had that individual not intervened this could have been exponentially more tragic,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers told AP.
“It’s an incredible act of heroism,” the mayor said Monday on NBC’s Today.
On the Club Q Facebook page, the nightclub thanked “the quick reactions of heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack.”
The suspect entered the club a few minutes before midnight Saturday and “immediately started shooting at people, as he moved further inside,” Colorado Springs police Chief Adrian Vasquez told reporters during a news conference Sunday morning. The attack lasted a few minutes before the gunman was pinned down and police arrived on scene.
The suspected gunman, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, is in custody and being treated for injuries.
Vasquez said they recovered two firearms at the club.
“I can confirm the suspect used a long rifle during this shooting,” Vasquez said, and an anonymous source told AP that a handgun and additional ammunition magazine were also found at the scene.
Although no motive for the attack has been shared, Suthers told the New York Times the shooting “has all the appearances of being a hate crime.”
Among those injured, several were still in critical condition, hospital officials told the press on Sunday.
The shooting was reminiscent of the 2016 Pulse club massacre when a gunman killed 49 people at the gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., before he was fatally shot by police.
Club Q, a long-standing venue in a modest strip mall, was described by many as a safe haven for the LGBTQ+ community.
One of the victims was identified as Daniel Aston, 28, a transgender man and bartender at the club who also performed in shows as a dancer, according to a Colorado Public Radio interview with his mother, Sabrina Aston.
“He was the happiest he had ever been,” Sabrina Aston said. “He was thriving and having fun and having friends. It’s just unbelievable. He had so much more life to give to us and to all his friends and to himself.”
NBC has identified another victim as Ashley Paugh, a woman from a nearby Colorado town who had travelled to Colorado Springs for a day of fun with a friend.
“Nothing will ever be the same without her,” her sister, Stephanie Clark, told the outlet. “Right now, I don’t want to laugh. She was a loving, caring person who would do anything for anybody. We’re gonna miss her so much.”
Matthew Haynes, one of the club’s owners, told the New York Times that Club Q has an active shooter protocol, which was “followed to the letter” Saturday night.
Haynes would not reveal the details of what he saw in the aftermath of the shooting, but credited “lots of mini-heroes who were taking people home, making sure people were safe.”
He told the outlet that he didn’t believe the shooter had previously visited the nightclub.
Already questions are being raised about why authorities didn’t seek to take Aldrich’s guns away from him in 2021, when he was arrested after his mother reported he threatened her with a homemade bomb and other weapons.
Though authorities at the time said no explosives were found, gun control advocates are asking why police didn’t try to trigger Colorado’s “red flag” law, which would have allowed authorities to seize the weapons his mother says he had. There’s also no public record that prosecutors ever moved forward with felony kidnapping and menacing charges against Aldrich.
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.
People took to social media over the weekend to applaud those who stopped the Colorado Spring shooter, but were also critical of the hundreds of armed officers who did not stop the Uvalde shooting.
President Joe Biden issued a statement on Sunday, saying “we must drive out the inequities that contribute to violence” against the LGBTQ+ community.
“While no motive in this attack is yet clear, we know that the (LGBTQ) community has been subjected to horrific hate violence in recent years,” Biden said. “Gun violence continues to have a devastating and particular impact on (LGBTQ) communities across our nation and threats of violence are increasing.”
— With files from Reuters and The Associated Press