Gay bar shooting suspect faces murder, hate crime charge

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – The man suspected of opening fire at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs was arrested on murder and hate crime charges Monday, two days after the attack that killed five people and left 17 others with gunshot wounds.

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

The charges were preliminary and prosecutors had not filed them in court. The hate crime charges would require proof that the gunman was motivated by bias, such as against the victims’ actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

The attack was halted when a patron grabbed a gun from Aldrich, hit him with it and pinned him down until police arrived minutes later.

Court documents detailing what led to Aldrich’s arrest have been 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-style semi-automatic weapon, but a handgun and additional ammunition magazines were also found. The official could not discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Officials clarified Monday that 18 people were injured in the attack, not 25 as they initially said. Among them was one person whose injury was not a gunshot wound. A second victim had no visible injuries, they said.

Thirteen people remained hospitalized Monday, officials said. Five people have been treated and released.

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

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

Although authorities said at the time that no explosives were found, gun control advocates have questioned why police did not use Colorado’s “red flag” laws to seize the guns his mother says he had. No public prosecutors have ever come forward with kidnapping and menacing charges against Aldrich.

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

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

The violence pierced the cozy confines of an entertainment venue that has long been valued as a safe haven for the LGBTQ community in the conservative-leaning city.

A makeshift memorial that emerged in the hours after the attack continued to grow Monday as a steady stream of mourners brought flowers and left messages of support for the LGBTQ community. The shooting scene remained cordoned off.

“It’s a reminder that love and acceptance still has a long way to go,” Colorado Springs resident Mary Nikkel said at the scene. “This growing monument to people says it matters what happened to you … We just won’t let it go.”

The club was one of the few nightspots 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 at the club with about two dozen other people dancing when the shots began. He initially thought it was part of the music until he heard another shot and said he saw the flash of a gun muzzle.

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 floor when they heard the violence unfold, including the gunman being subdued.

“I might have lost my lifeā€”over what?” he said, tears running down his cheeks. “We weren’t out to hurt anyone. We were in our space, our community, our home, enjoying ourselves like everyone else does.”

Detectives were investigating whether anyone had helped the suspect before the attack. Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said patrons who intervened during the attack were “heroic” and prevented more deaths.

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

Drag events have become a focus of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and protests Recently, opponents, including politicians, have proposed banning children from them, falsely claiming that they are used to “grooming” children.

The shooting happened during Transgender Awareness Week and right at the start of Sunday’s Transgender Day of Remembrancewhen events around the world are held to mourn and remember transgender people lost to violence.

Colorado Springs, a city of about 480,000 residents located 70 miles (110 kilometers) 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 prominent evangelical Christian ministry that lobbies against LGBTQ- rights. The group condemned the shooting, saying it “exposes the wickedness and wickedness of the human heart.”

In 2015, three people were killed and eight injured at a Planned Parenthood clinic in the city when a gunman attacked the clinic because it performed abortions.

Since 2006, there have been 523 mass murders and 2,727 deaths per year. Nov. 19, according to the Associated Press/USA Today US Mass Homicide Database

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Bedayn is a staff member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues.

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Associated Press reporters Haven Daley in Colorado Springs, Colleen Slevin in Denver, Michael Balsamo in Washington, Jamie Stengle in Dallas, Jeff McMillan in Scranton, Pennsylvania and Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana contributed.

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