COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Authorities scrambled Sunday to determine what led a gunman to enter a Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub just before midnight Saturday and open fire, leaving five people dead and 25 injured.
Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez identified the gunman as Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, who was in custody and being treated for injuries after patrons confronted him and stopped the shooting, which came during Transgender Awareness Week.
El Paso County District Attorney Michael Allen said investigators were looking into all possible motives and whether the attack should be prosecuted as a hate crime. But charges against the suspect “will likely include first-degree murder,” he said.
The shooting rekindled memories of the 2016 massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people. Colorado has experienced several mass killings, including at Columbine High School in 1999, a movie theater in suburban Denver in 2012, and at a Boulder supermarket last year.
It was the sixth mass killing this month and came in a year when the nation was shaken by the deaths of 21 in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
Here’s what we know about the shooter in Saturday’s deadly attack:
Authorities say assailant acted alone; reported prior interaction with police
Police said they believe Aldrich used a “long rifle” and acted alone during the shooting — but so far have offered few details on his background. The club owners did not know the suspect and were not aware of any recent threats toward the club, they told the New York Times.
Two residents of an apartment complex where records show Aldrich possibly lived once didn’t know him. One resident said police had been there asking questions.
A man with the same name and age as Aldrich was arrested in 2021 after his mother reported he threatened her with “a homemade bomb, multiple weapons, and ammunition,” according to authorities.
An El Paso County Sheriff’s Office release last year said that officers evacuated a portion of the area and eventually persuaded Aldrich to surrender. No explosive devices were found.
Officials would not immediately confirm whether it was the same person, saying they were investigating whether he’d been previously arrested.
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The Gazette in Colorado Springs previously reported that no formal charges were pursued in last year’s case and that it had since been sealed, according to the DA’s office.
Colorado’s red flag gun law evaded
Colorado passed a so-called “red flag” law in 2019 that allows police to seize firearms from individuals deemed a risk to themselves or others. The bill was written by Rep. Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex died in the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting in 2012.
El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder was an outspoken critic of the measure, at one point saying his deputies would not petition the court themselves but would serve civil orders if directed by a court. The opposition itself prompted a backlash that he said resulted in death threats sent to the office.
Courts approved a total of 146 extreme risk protection orders as of this summer. Statistics compiled this summer showed police requests were granted 95% of the time, while those who filed outside of law enforcement received the orders less than a third of the time.
But red flag usage is rarely used in the state, particularly in El Paso County, according to an Associated Press analysis. The analysis found that Colorado has one of the lowest rates of red flag usage despite widespread gun ownership and several high-profile mass shootings.
Courts in the state issued 151 gun surrender orders from when the law took effect in April 2019 through 2021, three surrender orders for every 100,000 adults in the state.
El Paso County joined nearly 2,000 counties nationwide in declaring themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuaries” to protect the constitutional right to bear arms and passed a 2019 resolution that says the red flag law “infringes upon the inalienable rights of law-abiding citizens” by ordering police to “forcibly enter premises and seize a citizen’s property with no evidence of a crime.”
Given the suspect’s purported prior interaction with police, former Colorado Republican state Rep. Cole Wist raised questions Sunday about whether sheriff’s deputies considered a red flag application for the suspected shooter.
“Colorado’s ERPO law was available to the El Paso County Sheriff’s office after this 2021 incident. Did they use it? Did they try? Did they even consider?” he tweeted.
The Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.
Susan Medina, chief of staff for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, told USA TODAY on Sunday she had no immediate information on whether any petitions existed in relation to the shooting suspect.
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Colorado’s mass shooting history
According to a database of mass killings kept by USA TODAY, the Associated Press, and Northeastern University, there have been eight mass shootings in Colorado since 2006 resulting in 51 deaths and 77 injuries.
A mass killing is defined as an incident in which at least four people were killed, not including the shooter.
The data shows there have been two mass shootings in Colorado Springs since 2006. The last one was in 2021 when a man fatally shot six people and himself at a birthday party. Another one was back in 2007 when a gunman killed four people in two separate shootings on the same day.
In 2015, a gunman killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Also in 2015, a man with a rifle killed three people in downtown Colorado Springs.
Contributing: Thao Nguyen, USA TODAY; The Associated Press