Samantha Alcock drove from Denver to Colorado Springs on Sunday after she heard that a gunman had opened fire at a popular gay nightclub, killing five and leaving more than 20 people hurt.
Alcock, 25, used to live in Colorado Springs and cherished Club Q. She had her 21st birthday there, spent other holidays there — spent nearly every weekend there.
“It’s the only place we felt safe,” Alcock said through tears as her partner, Kade Orlandini, 30, rubbed her back.
She was still waiting to hear back from friends Sunday, she said, hoping they were safe.
“It’s not easy being queer in Colorado Springs,” she said. “I feel shattered.”
The shocking violence at Club Q brought LGBTQ community members and allies to the nightclub Sunday, where they erected a memorial as they tried to comfort one another and await word on the fate of friends.
Brandon Bjorklund, 26, who is straight, and Devin Smith, 25, who identifies as pansexual, sat on the curb holding each other closely.
“This is a conservative town in Colorado, so the gay community already didn’t feel very welcome,” Bjorklund said. “This just heightens it and makes it worse.”
Smith said she met most of her friends at Club Q. Everyone is devastated by the shooting, she said.
“It impacts the entire gay community,” she said.
Ren Kurgis, 25, who identifies as pansexual, transgender and nonbinary, stood alone before the makeshift memorial.
“The only reason this happens is people are queer,” he said as a tear fell. “Well, two reasons: People are queer, and other people suck.
“Five people are dead because of ignorance, hate and malice,” he said.
As Kurgis walked away, he stopped to hug Elizabeth Stern, 39, who held a sign reading: “You are loved! Free mom hugs.”
Stern has a gay brother. She also lost a shipmate while in the Navy after he was outed and died by suicide, she said.
“You can’t help who you are, and you should never be harmed for who you are,” she said.
The attacker’s motive isn’t yet clear, but authorities said the shooting is being investigated as a hate crime.
The gunman, whom officials identified as Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, opened fire just before midnight Saturday, police said. He was quickly taken into custody when police arrived a few minutes after receiving a call, authorities said.
One of the people in the bar took a handgun from the shooter and hit him with it, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said in an interview with CNN. Suthers called it an “incredible act of heroism.”
In a statement, Club Q termed the shooting a hate attack.
“Club Q is devastated by the senseless attack on our community,” the club posted on its Facebook page. It said its prayers were with victims and families, adding: “We thank the quick reactions of heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack.”
Siblings Sophie Aldinger, 23, and Abby Aldinger, 20, who grew up in Colorado Springs and both identify as nonbinary, said Club Q is a place of love and laughter — not something that’s always easy to find for LGBTQ people in Colorado Springs.
They hope it survives.
“You can’t fight hate with hate,” Sophie said. “You can only fight hate with love.”