A gunman shot and killed five people at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs on Saturday night.
The shooting suspect, named by police as 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich, also injured more than two dozen people at Club Q before a patron pinned him on the ground until police arrived. Two barmen who worked at the club were killed in addition to 3 still unnamed others. Of the 25 people injured, seven were in critical condition as of Sunday night.
The suspect, who is reportedly the grandson of California state lawmaker Randy Voepel, was arrested by El Paso County police last year and charged with felony menacing and first-degree kidnapping after he allegedly threatened to harm his mother with a homemade bomb and other weapons. The case was never prosecuted.
The shooting in Colorado took place hours before the LGBTQ club was due to host an all-ages drag brunch event to celebrate Transgender Day of Remembrance. Similar events have been the target of increasingly vitriolic attacks by far-right groups and Republican lawmakers in recent months who baselessly claim they are being used to groom children.
“Club Q is a safe haven for our LGBTQ citizens,” Colorado Springs Police Department Chief Adrian Vasquez said in a statement. “Every citizen has the right to feel safe and secure in our city, to go about our beautiful city without fear of being harmed or treated poorly. I’m so terribly saddened and heartbroken.”
The first reports of gunfire inside Club Q were placed to the Colorado Springs Police Department at 11:57 pm on Saturday. Officers arrived at the scene 14 minutes later, and the shooting suspect was taken into custody at 12:02 am, according to Lt. Pamela Castro, the CSPD public information officer.
The owners of the club told the New York Times that they had reviewed CCTV footage of the attack and saw the shooter enter the club “heavily armed and wearing a military-style flak jacket.”
The shooter opened fire within seconds of entering the club. According to police statements and eyewitness reports, at least two patrons of the club tackled the shooter after he opened fire. One person grabbed 1 of the shooter’s guns and hit him with it, before pinning him on the ground until the police arrived.
“Had that individual not intervened this could have been exponentially more tragic,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said Sunday.
The shooter’s primary weapon was an AR-15 but he also had a handgun and additional rounds of ammunition on him when he entered the club, law enforcement sources told AP.
“Club Q is devastated by the senseless attack on our community,” the venue said in a Facebook post on Sunday. “Our [prayers] and thoughts are with all the victims and their families and friends. We thank the quick reactions of heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack.”
The shooting is the latest attack targeting the LGBTQ community, who are twice as likely to be the victims of gun violence than their straight peers.
El Paso County District Attorney Michael Allen said investigators were still looking into the motive behind the killings to determine if this was a “hate crime,” but that it was being investigated “with that lens.” He also said charges would likely include first degree murder.
Who is the suspected shooter?
Little is known about the 22-year-old suspected shooter, and VICE News was unable to find any accounts under his own name on any major social media platforms online.
Still, the suspected shooter’s mother, Laura Voepel, reported him to police in El Paso County in June 2021 for “threatening to cause harm to her with a homemade bomb, multiple weapons, and ammunition,” according to a press release by the El Paso County Sherriff’s department.
The suspected shooter was arrested after an armed standoff with police, and charged with five felonies, but a review of court records online show no indication that prosecutors moved forward with the case. The Colorado Springs Gazette reported that the district attorney’s office said no formal charges were pursued in the case. The district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
On her Facebook account, Voepel asked a group for women involved in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Colorado Springs area, for help with her son a month after he was arrested.
“Hello Sisters. Does anyone know of a fantastic defense attorney? I ask this with a heavy heart but my family really needs some help at this time. We have cash to retain good counsel. Thank you,” she wrote in a July 2021 post.
In February 2022, Voepel asked the same group: “Hello Sisters. Can anyone please recommend a great trauma/ptsd therapist?” adding in the comments that it was for a 21-year-old.
Then, in May, she asked the same group if anyone knew of a good boxing coach for her son because he “hits like a freight train.”
Domestic violence is often a key feature in many mass shootings, with nearly 60% of them involving domestic violence incidents or beginning with some form of domestic violence. Gun control advocates have also asked following the Club Q why police didn’t trigger Colorado’s “red flag” law, which would have allowed authorities to seize the weapons his mother says he had.
The suspected shooter is also reportedly the grandson of outgoing GOP State Assemblyman Randy Voepel, a former mayor of Santee, California. Voepel represents the 71st district in the San Diego area, but was defeated in a primary earlier this year after redistricting forced two sitting Republicans to face off.
Four years before his apparent grandson reportedly shot and killed five people at an LGBTQ clubevent, Voepel was condemned by the California Family Council for being “openly hostile to Biblical values” after he voted in favor of a bill promoting LGBT Pride Month.
Voepel also faced being expelled from the state Assembly last year after he compared the January 6 attacks to the Revolutionary War. “This is Lexington and Concord. First shots fired against tyranny,” Voepel told the San Diego Union-Tribune three days after the violent Capitol riot. “Tyranny will follow in the aftermath of the Biden swear-in on January 20th.”
For months, violent and hateful anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has been on the rise. Some in Colorado Springs say they felt something like the attack on Club Q was coming.
“You can just feel it,” Parker Grey, 25, who used to be a regular at Club Q, told NBC. “As a community, being through so much grief and so much loss after so many years, it’s almost like you can feel tragedy coming. Grey said he had stopped going to Club Q about a year and a half ago “because of the growing hatred for our community that started in the Springs.”
Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, who has spent years fomenting hate against the LGBTQ community in her home state, tweeted Sunday that “the news out of Colorado Springs is absolutely awful. This morning the victims & their families are in my prayers,” adding “this lawless violence needs to end and end quickly.”
Instantly, Twitter users reminded Boebert of her previous comments targeting the LGBTQ community in Colorado, highlighting a tweet in which she wrote: “Sending a message to all the drag queens out there: stay away from the children in Colorado’s Third District.”
Boebert was also a huge booster of the far right LibsOfTiktok account that has spearheaded attacks on the LGBTQ community in recent months and encouraged people to attack hospitals providing gender affirming care for children, leading to death threats being made against doctors working in those clinics.
Hours after the shooting took place in Club Q, the LibsofTiktok account—which now has a paid-for blue check verification mark thanks to Elon Musk’s lax new policies—posted a message urging its followers to attack a Colorado-based organization dedicated to helping young LGBTQ artists.
On popular far-right forums, many users instantly called the Colorado attack a false flag, just like they did following the 2016 shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Florida where 49 people were killed. Others responded positively to links posted to news about the killings, with “thumbs up” or heart emojis.
Tanner Pettit, who was at Club Q on Saturday night and narrowly avoided injury, posted a message on Facebook to say he had just moved to the area a week ago, and went to the club on Saturday night to “watch a drag show, make friends, and have fun.”
“Last night I was witness to a disgusting and terrifying tragedy and my heart goes out to the beautiful people I was able to meet that night,” Pettit wrote on Sunday. “My thoughts are with the families of the victims, and I hope that the person behind this disgusting and inhumane act is brought to justice.”