Colorado Springs (United States) (AFP) - The gunman who killed at least five in a Colorado LGBTQ nightclub was stopped by two "heroic" people in the crowd, police said Sunday.
Officers identified the suspect as 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich, and said he had used a rifle at the club, where partygoers were marking the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors people killed in transphobic attacks.
Twenty-five people were wounded in the shooting shortly before midnight on Saturday, according to city officials, with some in critical condition, police said.
The shooting was the latest in a long history of attacks on LGBTQ venues in the United States, the deadliest of which claimed 49 lives at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in 2016.
Police spokesperson Pamela Castro said Sunday that police arrived within four minutes of a call about an active shooting at Club Q, and that the suspect had been subdued just two minutes later.
The suspect entered the club and immediately began shooting, police chief Adrian Vasquez told a press conference.
"At least two heroic people inside the club confronted and fought with the suspect and were able to stop the suspect from continuing to kill and harm others," he added.
Bartender Michael Anderson was cowering on the club's patio when the gunman was overpowered.
"There were some very brave people beating him and kicking him, stopping him from causing more damage," he said."They saved my life last night."
Joshua Thurman of Colorado Springs was also in the club that night.
"It was so scary," he told reporters Sunday."There were bodies on the floor.There was shattered glass, broken cups, people crying.
"It was supposed to be our safe space...Where are we supposed to go?"
Aeron Laney, 24, was at the club for the first time, having just moved to Colorado Springs.
She described a small club where everyone seemed to know each other, the kind of place she knew she would fit right in.
"Everyone was just having a good time and smiling and laughing," she told AFP, tearfully looking at the bank of flowers growing outside the club.
"I just can't wrap my head around somebody just walking in and seeing people that are so happy and so comfortable in their community and just wanting to end that."
Laney and her friend Justin Godwin left minutes before the gunman stormed in.
"Maybe the guy was already there.Like was he in the parking lot...just planning it?" Godwin, 25, said. "It's just terrifying."
US President Joe Biden condemned the attack, slamming violence against the LGBTQ community, particularly transgender women of color.
"We must drive out the inequities that contribute to violence against LGBTQI+ people.We cannot and must not tolerate hate," he said.
Earlier bomb threat
The authorities said the suspect was being treated at a local hospital and noted that officials including the FBI were investigating.
A man with the same name was arrested on June 18 last year, aged 21, after his mother said he had threatened to hurt her with a homemade bomb or "multiple weapons," according to a news release at the time from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.
Club Q said on Facebook that it was "devastated by the senseless attack on our community," adding, "We thank the quick reactions of heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack."
Authorities said the shooting had not yet been officially classified as a hate crime but that first-degree murder charges were certain to be filed.
Colorado's Governor Jared Polis, who in 2018 became the first openly gay man elected as a US state governor, called the shooting "horrific, sickening and devastating."
'Events we train for'
Authorities could not immediately say how many people were in the popular club at the time.
Dozens of police and firefighters rushed to the scene.
"Unfortunately," Colorado Springs Fire Department spokesperson Mike Smaldino said, "these are events we do train for."
Transgender rights were a hot-button issue in the United States leading up to midterm elections earlier this month, with Republicans putting forward a slew of legislative proposals to restrict them.
Gun violence is a huge problem in the United States, where more than 600 mass shootings have occurred so far in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive website.