Hundreds attend vigil in Colorado for victims of LGBTQ bar shooting
'We're not going anywhere': Emotional vigil held Monday night in Colorado Springs
Hundreds of people, many holding candles and wiping away tears, gathered in a Colorado Springs park to honour 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. 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, 110 kilometres 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 of 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.
Patron went on instinct, says others also deserved credit
Michael Allen, district attorney for Colorado's 4th Judicial District, told reporters Monday evening the suspect will likely make his first court appearance via video in the next couple of days, depending on his condition. Formal charges would be filed after that appearance, Allen said.
A law enforcement official said the suspect used an AR-15-style semi-automatic weapon in Saturday night's attack at Club Q, but a handgun and additional ammunition magazines also were recovered.
Meanwhile, more details emerged about Richard Fierro, who — along with another patron, Thomas James — subdued the shooter and ended the attack.
Fierro, a decorated Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who had taken his family to support a drag show performer who was one of his daughter's friends, said his U.S. army training took over when gunfire broke out.
"It's the reflex," he told reporters gathered on the snow-covered front yard of his suburban Colorado Springs home Monday evening. "Go. Go to the fire. Stop the action. Stop the activity. Don't let no one get hurt."
Fierro described grabbing the gunman by the armour he was wearing, dragging him down and using the shooter's pistol to beat him.
The dead included the boyfriend of Fierro's daughter, identified by Colorado Springs police as Raymond Green Vance.
"He's a good kid. And I loved him," Fierro said of Vance, who he had known since his daughter was in high school.
Fierro said many others deserved credit, including a young man who had been dancing with his daughter and dragged her to safety when the shooting started, and another person who kicked the gunman with her high heels as Fierro held him down.
"I wish I could have saved everybody in there," he said. "I wish I could have done more."
18 injured, 13 still in hospital
Thirteen people remained hospitalized Monday, officials said. At least five people had been treated and released. Mayor John Suthers said there was "reason to hope" all of the hospitalized victims would recover.
On Monday, Police Chief Adrian Vasquez identified the dead as Kelly Loving, Daniel Aston, Derek Rump, Ashley Paugh and Vance.
Aston, 28, was 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," she 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 to his friends and to himself."
Suspect's past threats probed
Already questions were 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.
Sheriff's deputies evacuated about 10 nearby homes until Aldrich eventually surrendered. They found no explosives but Aldrich was booked into the county jail on two counts of "felony menacing" and three counts of "first-degree kidnapping," the press release said.
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 prosecutors ever moved forward with the felony kidnapping and menacing charges against Aldrich.
On Monday evening, Allen, the district attorney, told reporters that he was unable to comment about Aldrich's past due to "very restrictive" Colorado laws under which court documents were automatically sealed when a court case was dismissed.
Anxiety within many LGBTQ communities in the United States has risen amid a divisive political climate and after a string of threats and violence targeting LGBTQ people and events in recent months.
The shooting rekindled memories of the 2016 massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., that killed 49 people. Colorado has experienced several mass killings, including at Columbine High School in 1999, a movie theatre in suburban Denver in 2012, a Planned Parenthood clinic in 2015 and at a Boulder supermarket last year.
Support is available for anyone affected by this report. You can talk to a mental health professional via Wellness Together Canada by calling 1-866-585-0445 or text WELLNESS to 686868 for youth or 741741 for adults. It is free and confidential.
With files from Reuters and CBC News