By THOMAS PEIPERT, JESSE BEDAYN and BRITTANY PETERSON
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Hundreds of people, many holding candles and wiping away tears, gathered in a Colorado Springs park to honor those killed and wounded when a gunman opened fire on a nightlife venue that for decades was a sanctuary for the local LGBTQ community.
Monday night’s vigil came as the 22-year-old suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, remained hospitalized after Saturday night’s attack in which five people were killed and another 17 suffered gunshot wounds before patrons tackled and beat the suspect into submission. Aldrich faces five murder charges and five charges of committing a bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury, online court records showed.
The attack at Club Q has shaken the LGBTQ community in this mostly conservative city of about 480,000, located 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of Denver. At the vigil people 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 the club 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.
“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.”
Authorities have yet to reveal a motive for the attack, but the charges against Aldrich include hate crime charges, which would require proving that the gunman was motivated by bias, such as against the victims’ actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The charges against Aldrich are preliminary, and prosecutors have not filed formal charges in court yet.
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.
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, adding that additional charges are possible.
More details emerged Monday about those killed and those credited with stopping the shooting.
Authorities said the attack was halted by two club patrons including Richard Fierro, who told reporters 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 he ran at the suspect, who was wearing some type body armor, and pulled him down before severely beating him until police arrived.
Though his actions saved lives, Fierro said the deaths — including his daughter’s boyfriend, 22-year-old Raymond Green Vance — were a tragedy both personal and for the broader community.
“There are five people that I could not help. And one of which was family to me,” he said, as his brother put a consoling hand on his shoulder.
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.
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.
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.
Thirteen victims remained hospitalized Monday, officials said. Five people had been treated and released.
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.
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.
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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