By THOMAS PEIPERT, JESSE BEDAYN and BRITTANY PETERSON
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The man suspected of opening fire at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs was being held on murder and hate crime charges Monday, while hundreds of people gathered to honor the five people killed and 17 wounded in the attack on a venue that for decades was a sanctuary for the local LGBTQ community.
Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, faces five murder charges and five charges of committing a bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury in Saturday night’s attack at Club Q, online court records showed.
Authorities said the attack was halted by two club patrons including Richard Fierro, who told reporters Monday night that he took a handgun from Aldrich, hit him with it and pinned him down with help from another person.
Fierro, a 15-year U.S. Army veteran who owns a local brewery, said he was celebrating a birthday with family members when the suspect “came in shooting.” Fierro said during a lull in the shooting he ran at the suspect, who was wearing some type of armor plates, and pulled him down before severely beating him until police arrived.
“I tried to save people and it didn’t work for five of them,” he said. “These are all good people. … I’m not a hero. I’m just some dude.”
Fierro’s daughter’s longtime boyfriend, Raymond Green Vance, 22, was killed, while his daughter hurt her knee as she ran for cover. Fierro injured his hands, knees and ankle while stopping the shooter.
The suspect remained hospitalized with unspecified injuries but is expected to make his first court appearance in the next couple of days, after doctors clear him to be released from the hospital.
The charges against Aldrich were preliminary, and prosecutors had not filed formal charges in court yet. The hate crime charges would require proving that the gunman was motivated by bias, such as against the victims’ actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
Local and federal authorities during a Monday news briefing declined to answer questions about why hate crime charges are being considered, citing the ongoing investigation. District Attorney Michael Allen noted that the murder charges would carry the harshest penalty — life in prison — whereas bias crimes are eligible for probation.
“But it is important to let the community know that we do not tolerate bias motivated crimes in this community, that we support communities that have been maligned, harassed and intimidated and abused,” Allen said. “And that’s one way that we can do that, showing that we will put the money where our mouth is, essentially, and make sure that we try it that way.”
Additional charges are possible as the investigation continues, he said.
About 200 people gathered Monday night in the cold at a city park for a community vigil for the shooting victims. People held candles, embraced and listened as speakers on a stage expressed both rage and sadness over the shootings.
Jeremiah Harris, who is 24 and gay, said he went to Club Q a couple times a month and recognized one of the victims as the bartender who always served him. He said hearing others speak at the vigil was galvanizing following the attack at what for more than 20 years had been considered an LGBTQ safe spot in the conservative-leaning city.
“Gay people have been here as long as people have been here,” Harris said. “To everybody else that’s opposed to that … we’re not going anywhere. We’re just getting louder and you have to deal with it.”
The other victims were identified by authorities and family members as Ashley Paugh, 35, a mother who helped find homes for foster children; Daniel Aston, 28, who had worked at the club as a a bartender and entertainer; Kelly Loving, 40, whose sister described her as “caring and sweet”; and Derrick Rump, 38, another club bartender who was known for his quick wit and adopting his friends as his family.
Vance’s family said in a statement that the Colorado Springs native was adored by his family and had recently gotten a job at FedEx, where he hoped to save enough money to get his own apartment.
Thomas James was identified by authorities as the other patron who intervened to stop the shooter. Fierro said a third person also helped — a performer at the club who Fierro said kicked the suspect in the head as she ran by.
Court documents laying out Aldrich’s arrest have been sealed at the request of prosecutors. Information on whether Aldrich had a lawyer was not immediately available.
A law enforcement official said the suspect used an AR-15-style semi-automatic weapon. A handgun and additional ammunition magazines also were recovered. The official could not discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Thirteen victims remained hospitalized Monday, officials said. Five people had been treated and released.
Officials on Monday clarified that 18 people were hurt in the attack, not 25 as they said originally. Among them was one person whose injury was not a gunshot wound. Another victim had no visible injuries, they said.
Colorado Springs, a city of about 480,000, is 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of Denver. Mayor John Suthers said there was “reason to hope” all of the hospitalized victims would recover.
The assault quickly raisedquestions 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 threatened her with a homemade bomb and other weapons.
Though authorities at the time said no explosives were found, gun-control advocates have asked why police didn’t use Colorado’s “red flag” laws to seize the weapons his mother says he had. There’s no public record prosecutors ever moved forward with felony kidnapping and menacing charges against Aldrich.
It was the sixth mass killing this month, and it came in a year when the nation was shaken by the deaths of 21 in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. It also rekindled memories of the 2016 massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people.
President Joe Biden talked to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis by phone and will continue to press Congress for an assault weapons ban “because thoughts and prayers are just not enough,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday.
A makeshift memorial that sprang up in the hours after the attack continued to grow Monday, as a stream of mourners brought flowers and left messages in support of the LGBTQ community. The shooting site remained cordoned off.
“It’s a reminder that love and acceptance still have a long way to go,” Colorado Springs resident Mary Nikkel said at the site.
Since 2006, there have been 523 mass killings and 2,727 deaths as of Nov. 19, according to The Associated Press/USA Today database on mass killings in the U.S.
Bedayn is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
Associated Press reporters Haven Daley in Colorado Springs, Colleen Slevin in Denver, Darlene Superville in Washington, Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Jeff McMillan in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, and news researcher Rhonda Shafner from New York contributed.
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