COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — With the sun set over Colorado’s Front Range, the darkened Colorado Springs strip mall that has long been home to Club Q glowed with the flicker of candles and flashes of news cameras Sunday night.
Couples holding hands and parents with babies bundled in fleece blankets shuffled along where a makeshift memorial of cellophane-wrapped flowers and handwritten notes had been steadily growing outside the LGBTQ club since early Sunday.
Authorities said a 22-year-old gunman opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle inside the Colorado Springs nightclub Saturday night, killing five people and leaving 17 others injured with gunshot wounds. At least seven were in critical condition, authorities said. Some were hurt trying to flee, and it was unclear if all of the victims were shot, a police spokesperson said.
According to authorities, he was later subdued by “heroic” patrons and arrested by police who arrived within minutes.
Shianna Ray, 27, said that as members of Colorado Springs’ LGBTQ+ community, she and her girlfriend, Kasside Butterfass, 27, wanted to come by and show their support for Club Q Sunday night. By then, it had been nearly 12 hours since the couple awoke to a flurry of calls and text messages.
Ray — who frequented Club Q and used to go-go dance there — said she knew two people who were in the club at the time of the shooting. They both survived.
When news of the shooting broke, Butterfass said one thought came to mind: “Why?”
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‘Makes me feel angry along with sadness’
Former Colorado Springs resident Terry Miles also made her way to Club Q Sunday night, laying one of the few bouquets of flowers she could find at a local Trader Joe’s on the memorial’s growing mound.
“I just don’t know if I have any words right now. Just emotions,” Miles said.
One of the mourners who visited a makeshift memorial at the scene of the attack, Joseph Reininger, has lived in Colorado Springs since 1972 and said he brought flowers because he supports the LGBTQ-plus community.
“They are sweet people and I come to the Q for the drag shows. I love the people,” Reininger said. The tragedy “makes me feel angry, along with sadness.”
Michael Travis, wearing a state of Texas police chaplain’s uniform, visited the scene to play “Taps” on a trumpet. “We all feel shock and grief, so I came out to comfort everybody,” Travis said.
Travis said he has visited Club Q often and “this is a fantastic place that makes it safe for everybody in the LGBTQ-plus community. It was a place where you could come and forget about work and it was a home to everyone.”
“We are not even safe in our own home. Hopefully this is an isolated incident,” Travis added.
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‘Every LGBTQ parents’ worst nightware’
Among those paying their respects outside Club Q on Sunday afternoon was Colleen Bunkers, who wore a sign around her neck that read: “Free hugs from the mom of a trans son. We love you.”
She said her son, now 23, has been coming to the club since he was 18, but was at home when the shooting erupted. Bunkers said she had shared at least 15 hugs with those at the memorial.
“I want them to know they have been through so much to get where they are and they don’t need this on top of it,” she said. “They are loved, precious and we care.”
Bunkers said her son recently moved back to Colorado Springs because he felt it would be safe, and to have this happen “is every LGBTQ parents’ worst nightmare.” Still, she remained resolute.
“I taught him to be confident and love is the answer,” Bunkers said. “We are not going to let this craziness win.”
‘Tired of running out of places where we can exist safely’
Colorado Springs, a city of about 480,000 located 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Denver, is home to the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Olympic Training Center, as well as Focus on the Family, a prominent evangelical Christian ministry that lobbies against LGBTQ rights. The group condemned the shooting and said it “exposes the evil and wickedness inside the human heart.”
Seth Stang was buying flowers for the memorial when he was told that two of the dead were his friends. The 34-year-old transgender man said it was like having “a bucket of hot water getting dumped on you. … I’m just tired of running out of places where we can exist safely.”
Ryan Johnson, who lives near the club and was there last month, said it was one of only two nightspots for the LGBTQ community in conservative-leaning Colorado Springs. “It’s kind of the go-to for pride,” the 26-year-old said of the club, which is tucked behind other businesses, including a bowling alley and a sandwich shop.
Contributing: The Associated Press