US gay club shooting suspect faces murder, hate crime charges

The man accused of killing five people and injuring more than a dozen others at a gay bar in the US state of Colorado is facing preliminary murder and hate crime charges, several media outlets have reported, citing court records.

Online court records showed that Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, faced five murder charges and five charges of committing a bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury in relation to the attack at Club Q in Colorado Springs, The Associated Press reported on Monday.

The charges were preliminary, and prosecutors had not filed them in court, the news agency said.

The Denver Post also reported that records showed that Aldrich was arrested on suspicion of murder and hate crimes, but official charges may eventually change.

“We will hold people accountable as we identify what charges should be filed in this case,” District Attorney Michael Allen said during a news conference later in the day, telling reporters that formal charges had not yet been filed.

Aldrich, who was overpowered by patrons after opening fire in the club on Saturday night, is currently hospitalised while awaiting formal charges, Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said.

Vasquez said he would “strive to give the victims the honour and respect that they deserve” and held a moment of silence at the news conference. He also praised the “heroic actions” of Richard Fierro and Thomas James, who subdued the gunman.

The police department said on Monday afternoon that five people were killed in the attack that has sent shockwaves across the United States. Seventeen others suffered gunshot wounds, while another person was injured but not by gunfire, police said.

Allen said earlier on Monday that he expected first-degree murder charges to be filed and “if the evidence supports bias-motivated crimes, we will charge that as well”.

“There’s obviously some evidence,” the district attorney told CNN. “The location is some evidence.

“The fact that these victims were in a specific location that is predominantly frequented by members of the LGBTQ community — that is evidence that we can use,” he said.

The hate crime charges would require proving that the attacker was motivated by bias, such as against the victims’ actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

A law enforcement official, who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media, said the suspect used an AR-15-style semiautomatic weapon, but that a handgun and additional ammunition magazines also were recovered.

A vigil after the mass shooting at the Club Q gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, November 20 [Kevin Mohatt/Reuters]

Gun violence

The shooting — which Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said “had all the appearances of being a hate crime” — recalled a 2016 massacre when a gunman killed 49 people at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, before he was fatally shot by police.

Colorado has experienced several mass killings, including at Columbine High School in 1999, in a movie theatre in suburban Denver in 2012, and at a Boulder supermarket last year.

The attack on Saturday also came as the US has seen growing calls for stricter gun regulations in the aftermath of an attack at a primary school in Uvalde, Texas, in May that left 19 children and two teachers dead.

Already, questions have been raised about why authorities did not seek to take Aldrich’s guns away when he was arrested in 2021 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 did not try to trigger Colorado’s “red flag” law, which would have allowed authorities to seize the weapons his mother says he had.

There is also no public record that prosecutors ever moved forward with felony kidnapping and menacing charges against Aldrich.

At the news conference on Monday, Suthers, the mayor, said it was “premature” to question whether the state’s “red flag law” should have been invoked.

Suthers also said on NBC’s “Today” programme that the district attorney would file motions in court on Monday to allow law enforcement to talk more about any criminal history “that this individual might have had”.

Meanwhile, detectives were examining whether anyone had helped the suspect before the attack, said Vasquez, the police chief.

 

‘Horrific hate’

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

Drag events recently have become a focus of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and protests as opponents, including politicians, have proposed banning children from them.

On its Facebook page, Club Q thanked the “quick reactions of heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack”.

President Joe Biden said that while the motive for the shooting was not yet clear, “we know that the LGBTQI+ community has been subjected to horrific hate violence in recent years”.

“Places that are supposed to be safe spaces of acceptance and celebration should never be turned into places of terror and violence,” he said. “We cannot and must not tolerate hate.”

Colorado Governor Jared Polis, who became the first openly gay man to be elected a US governor in 2018, called the shooting “sickening”.

“My heart breaks for the family and friends of those lost, injured and traumatised,” Polis said.

Legislators and activists across the country also called for ending gun violence and hateful rhetoric against the community.

“The hate-fueled rhetoric and bigotry endangering the lives & safety of our LGBTQ+ community must end,” Congresswoman Cori Bush wrote on Twitter.

A makeshift memorial sprang up on Sunday near the club, with flowers, a stuffed animal, candles and a sign saying “Love over hate” next to a rainbow-coloured heart.

Ryan Johnson, who lives near the club and was there last month, said it was one of just two nightspots for the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs. “It’s kind of the go-to for Pride,” the 26-year-old said.

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