Authorities in the city of Colorado Springs Monday said they had charged a 22-year-old man with hate crimes in the wake of a shooting at a LGBTQ nightclub over the weekend that left five dead and 18 wounded.
Officials said that the suspect was arrested on five counts of murder and five counts of “bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury,” language that reflects Colorado’s hate crimes law. Other charges related to the dozens injured in the assault remain likely when the suspect is formally charged in court.
It was unclear Monday precisely how officials determined what motivated the suspect. In an interview with CNN Monday morning, Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said that the suspect remains in the hospital and is "determined not to speak to investigators."
The assault took place late Saturday night at Club Q, a major social hub for the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs. Officials and the club’s owners have said that the killer entered the club wearing body armor and carrying an AR-15 style rifle, and immediately began shooting.
On Monday, Richard M. Fierro, a 45-year-old former U.S. Army officer who served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, told The New York Times that he had fought the gunman, throwing him to the ground and causing him to drop the rifle. Fierro then seized a handgun from the suspect and beat him over the head with it while other patrons assisted in subduing him. An owner of Club Q told the paper that security footage seems to support Fierro’s account of what happened.
Police were on the scene within minutes and took the suspect into custody.
The killings come at a time when the LGBTQ community in the U.S. is under increasingly strident attack from right wing politicians and activists. Much of that vitriol has been directed at drag performers, and Club Q had announced that on Sunday it would hold a drag show and drag brunch to mark Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Grief, trauma and sorrow
At the state and national levels, LGBTQ advocacy organizations were quick to react to the massacre, some connecting it to the efforts by right wing organizations to demonize their community. Some pointed to the dozens of state-level laws aimed at limiting the freedom of the LGBTQ community to express itself publicly which have been proposed over the past year.
“There are no words that will undo the horror that continues to devastate our communities,” Nadine Bridges, executive director of the advocacy group One Colorado, said in a statement. “Our safe spaces continue to become places of grief, trauma, and sorrow due to gun violence, mass shootings and the general disrespect for our human condition. Not one more life should be taken or lost. No one should feel unsafe to celebrate or live authentically in public.”
“While horrifying, the mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs should not come as a surprise,” Kierra Johnson, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, said in a statement. “This is what happens when violent rhetoric and anti-LGBTQ legislation is relentlessly directed at our community.”
Government officials react
Public officials were quick to condemn the killings. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, the first openly gay man to serve as governor in U.S. history, ordered flags at public building to be flown at half-staff for five days, one for each of the victims killed.
“This is horrific, sickening and devastating,” Polis said in a statement released to the media. “My heart breaks for the family and friends of those lost, injured, and traumatized in this horrific shooting. … We are eternally grateful for the brave individuals who blocked the gunman likely saving lives in the process and for the first responders who responded swiftly to this horrific shooting. Colorado stands with our LGTBQ community and everyone impacted by this tragedy as we mourn together.”
On Sunday, President Joe Biden also issued a statement, saying, “Places that are supposed to be safe spaces of acceptance and celebration should never be turned into places of terror and violence. Yet it happens far too often. We must drive out the inequities that contribute to violence against LGBTQI+ people. We cannot and must not tolerate hate.”
Although Colorado is one of the most welcoming U.S. states when it comes to the treatment of LGBTQ people, Colorado Springs itself is a particularly conservative community. It is home to, among other things, both the U.S. Air Force Academy and the socially conservative activist organization Focus on the Family, which has for years lobbied against LGBTQ rights.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, who represents Colorado Springs in the U.S. House of Representatives, used Twitter to issue a statement on the killings Sunday, writing, “I am saddened to hear of the senseless loss of life in the shooting last night. Law enforcement and first responders are to be commended for their rapid response. All people should pray for the victims and their families.”
Lamborn immediately came under attack from other users who pointed out his history of anti-LGBTQ activity. Many were quick to note, for example, that he attempted to eliminate funding for the Public Broadcasting System after it aired a cartoon that included a same-sex wedding.
Rep. Lauren Boebert, another conservative Republican whose district abuts Lamborn’s, also tweeted about the attack, saying that “the victims & their families are in my prayers.”
Boebert, who has used Twitter to attack the LGBTQ community by, among other things, baselessly accusing it of “grooming” children for sexual abuse, immediately met a storm of protest, much of it from her fellow lawmakers.
“[Y]ou have played a major role in elevating anti-LGBT+ hate rhetoric and anti-trans lies while spending your time in Congress blocking even the most common-sense gun safety laws,” Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in response. “You don’t get to ‘thoughts and prayers’ your way out of this. Look inward and change.”