COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Deanne VanScyoc said she fell to the ground behind a pool table at Club Q and was calling 911 when gunshots first rang out just before midnight, hitting people at the bar.
VanScyoc was standing behind a glass wall in front of the entrance when the shooter walked in, she said. The shooter turned right and fired a single shot at the bar, then three more in quick succession, then a barrage of shots. As pop music blared and flashing lights flashed, VanScyoc saw the bulletproof gunman walk down a ramp in a crouched stance, rifle at eye level, and headed for the dance floor.
“There was no hesitation,” VanScyoc said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The guests of the gay club were celebrating a drag queen’s birthday that night and the atmosphere had been festive. By the time filming began, much of the crowd had already left the dance floor and congregated in an enclosed courtyard adjacent to the dance floor.
According to the authorities, five people were killed and 17 injured by gunfire in an attack that lasted only a few minutes.
As the shooter advanced deeper into the club, VanScyoc heard another volley of gunfire. Gunman Anderson Aldrich, 22, sprayed bullets across the ballroom. Partygoers lining the walls flipped tables and crouched behind them, according to VanScyoc and a friend who was there, AJ Bridgewater. The two told what happened during the shooting while standing next to the growing flower memorial outside the club on Tuesday night.
VanScyoc didn’t see the victims being shot, she said, “but I heard screams.”
Another guest, James Slaugh, said he was preparing to leave for the night when “all of a sudden we hear ‘pop, pop, pop.’ When I turn around, I got a bullet in my arm from behind.”
Slaugh, speaking from his hospital bed, said he saw others fall around him including his friend, who was shot in the leg, and his sister, who survived with gunshot wounds in 13 places. The scariest part of the shooting, he said, was not knowing if the attacker would shoot again.
Seeing the shooter move toward the patio – visible from the ballroom through a glass door – VanScyoc took her chance and jumped out from behind the pool table to run for the exit.
Outside on the terrace, Bridgewater said he began to flee when the first volleys rang out, but panicked and tripped over a chair. He regained his feet and, with a group of about 20 people, charged toward a closed garage door that led to a fenced yard. “It was escape or death,” he said.
Neither VanScyoc nor Bridgewater saw Aldrich being subdued, but believed it happened as the attacker moved toward the patio. Aldrich was dragged to the ground and punched by two club guests – Thomas James and Richard Fierro.
For those who attended Club Q, the violence also desecrated one of the few places where Colorado Springs’ LGBTQ community has been able to fully embrace their authentic selves.
The motive for the attack is still being determined. A judge ordered Aldrich held without bail during a first court appearance Wednesday on preliminary murder and hate crime charges. Officials say Aldrich was armed with a semi-automatic rifle and at least one other weapon was found at the scene.
After VanScyoc made it outside, she walked to the club’s front entrance, where she said James collapsed with a gunshot wound to the chest after helping to subdue the suspect. Pressing down on the wound with one hand, she spoke to police on her phone until paramedics arrived.
Meanwhile, Bridgewater and the crowd on the patio had opened the door with some effort, climbed over the fence, and run to a nearby Walgreens, banging on the door with no response. The group moved next to a 7-Eleven, where they found another clubgoer, Barrett Hudson, lying face down with seven gunshot wounds to his back as local people tried to stem the bleeding.
In the early hours after the shooting, Bridgewater and others gathered at a friend’s home and watched the story unfold in the media. He kept trying to call Club Q bartender Derrick Rump, one of Bridgewater’s closest friends, and then learned he was among those killed.
“We all lost it,” Bridgewater said.
The days since, he said, have been a patch of “silence, tears, a moment of laughter, chaos.”