COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Deanne VanScyoc said she dropped to the floor behind a pool table at Club Q and called 911 as the first shots rang out just before midnight, hitting people at the bar.
VanScyoc was facing the entrance from behind a glass wall when the shooter came in, she said. The shooter turned right and fired a single shot toward the bar, then three more in rapid succession, then a flurry of shots. As pop music pounded and a strobe light flashed, VanScyoc saw the shooter, in body armor, move in a crouch down a ramp, rifle at eye level, and head toward the dance floor.
“There was no hesitation,” VanScyoc told The Associated Press in an interview.
Patrons at the gay club that night were celebrating a drag queen’s birthday and the atmosphere had been festive. When the shooting started, much of the crowd already had left the dance floor and was gathered in an enclosed patio just off the dance floor.
Five people were killed and 17 wounded by gunfire in an attack that unfolded over just minutes, according to authorities.
As the shooter moved deeper into the club, VanScyoc heard another volley of shots. The shooter, who police identified as Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, sprayed bullets across the dance hall. Partygoers along the walls flipped over tables and ducked behind them, according to VanScyoc and a friend who was there, A.J. Bridgewater. The two recounted what happened during the shooting while standing beside the growing memorial of flowers outside the club on Tuesday night.
VanScyoc didn’t see the victims get shot, she said, “but I heard screams.”
Another patron, James Slaugh, said he had been getting ready to leave for the night when, “all of a sudden we just hear, ‘pop, pop, pop.’ As I turn, I took a bullet in my arm from the back.”
Slaugh, who spoke from his hospital bed, said he watched others around him fall, including his boyfriend, who was shot in the leg, and his sister, who survived with bullet wounds in 13 places. The scariest part of the shooting, he said, was not knowing whether the assailant would fire again.
As she saw the shooter move toward the patio — viewable from the dance hall through a glass door — VanScyoc took her chance and jumped up from behind the pool table to run for an exit.
Out on the patio, Bridgewater said he started to flee as the first volleys rang out, but panicked and tripped over a stool. He regained his footing and rushed with a group of about 20 people toward a closed garage door that led to a fenced-in area. “It was flight or die,” he said.
Neither VanScyoc nor Bridgewater saw Aldrich subdued, but believed it happened as the attacker moved toward the patio. Aldrich was pulled to the ground by two club patrons — Thomas James and Richard Fierro — and beaten.
To those who frequented Club Q, the violence also desecrated one of the few places the Colorado Springs LGBTQ community could fully embrace their authentic selves.
The motive for the attack is still being investigated. A judge ordered Aldrich to be held without bail during an initial court appearance Wednesday on preliminary charges of murder and hate crimes. Officials say Aldrich was armed with a semi-automatic rifle and at least one other gun was recovered at the scene.
Once VanScyoc had made it outside, she moved to the front entrance of the club, where she said James had collapsed with a bullet wound in his chest after helping subdue the suspect. She held pressure on the wound with one hand and spoke to police on her phone until paramedics arrived.
Meanwhile, Bridgewater and the crowd on the patio had opened the door open with some difficulty, scaled the fence, and ran toward a nearby Walgreens, pounding on the door to no response. The group moved next to a 7-Eleven, where they found another clubgoer, Barrett Hudson, lying face down with seven bullet wounds in his back as people on the scene tried to stop the bleeding.
In the early morning hours after the shooting, Bridgewater and others gathered in a friend’s apartment, watching the story unfold in the media. He kept trying to call Club Q bartender Derrick Rump, one of Bridgewater’s closest friends, then learned he was among those killed.
“We all lost it,” said Bridgewater.
The days since, he said, have been a blur of “silence, tears, a moment of laughter, chaos.”