Michael Anderson was mixing drinks at Club Q Saturday night when he heard popping sounds amid the loud, thumping music.
He wasn’t worried at first. The pops sounded like some sound effects popular at LGBTQ clubs, the bartender told CNN’s Don Lemon. Then he looked up and a figure came into his line of sight, clutching a weapon.
“I saw the outline of a man wearing a rifle at the entrance of the club,” he said.
Confused and suddenly terrified, he ducked behind the bar. All around him came a chaotic mix of gunfire, screams and breaking glass.
“Glass began to spew everywhere all around me,” he said. “It hit me this was actually happening, in real life, to me and my friends. … I feared I was not going to make it out of that club alive. I have never prayed so sincerely and quickly in my life as I did in that moment.”
Anderson kept his head down until the gunshots stopped, then ran out of the building to safety. Others could not.
Bartender tried to escape club. He unexpectedly saw gunman on the ground
Colorado Springs Police said they got the first 911 call at 11:56 p.m. Within a minute, they had dispatched officers to the nightclub. By 12:02 a.m., the gunman was in custody..
Six minutes. Some people trapped inside Club Q said it felt like an eternity.
Those agonizing minutes left five people dead: Daniel Aston, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh, Derrick Rump and Raymond Green Vance. Nineteen others were injured.
In those six minutes, the club’s reputation as a safe haven for LGBQT people in Colorado Springs was shattered. The attack stunned the community and echoed the 2016 massacre that left 49 people dead at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Club Q sits on a busy commercial road in suburban Colorado Springs, surrounded by strip malls and apartment complexes. Nearby are a Walgreen’s, a Subway, a bowling alley and a cell phone repair shop.
It’s a fun-loving place, with frequent drag shows and playful menu items such as “Gayoli Fries” – french fries topped with garlic aioli – and “Death by Rainbow Flight,” a grouping of six candy-flavored shots. “Nobody parties like Club Q,” says the club’s Facebook page.
The club had hosted a punk-themed drag show earlier that night by a performer named Del Lusional. Then a DJ began playing. A promotional flyer for the club promised “dancing til 2 am.” The cover was $7.
The first shots rang out shortly before midnight.
Ed Sanders, 63, was ordering a drink at the bar when he was hit.
Everything happened so fast that he barely grasped what was going on until he was shot again – this time in the leg, he told CNN in a bedside interview from a nearby hospital.
“I was hit in the back and I turned around and saw him (the gunman), and it was very fast,” Sanders said. “The second volley took my leg and I fell. Everybody fell, pretty much.”
Next to him on the floor was an injured woman.
“I put my coat over her. She was shivering and not breathing very well,” he said. Sanders remembers hearing people trying to help other shooting victims with tourniquets.
Past the bar and down a ramp, Club Q regular Joshua Thurman was on the dance floor when he heard what sounded like gunshots.
“I thought it was the music,” Thurman told reporters the next morning. “I didn’t hear any screams or anything like that.” So he kept dancing.
But then Thurman said he heard another round of shots.
“I turned around and saw not the gun … but the light coming out of the gun,” he said. The muzzle flashes continued, followed by more popping sounds.
Thurman and a customer dashed to the club’s dressing room, where they encountered a drag performer. They locked the door, turned off the lights, got down on the ground and called 911.
“As we’re on the phone telling the police to hurry, we’re hearing more shots, people yelling, people screaming. I heard shots, broken glass …” he told reporters before dropping his face in his hands and sobbing.
Thurman said the few minutes in the dressing room felt like forever. He thought about his mother and all his loved ones, and prayed he’d make it out alive so he could make amends with anyone he may have wronged.
“How, why? As a Black kid, it’s taboo to be gay. This is one of the first places where I’ve felt accepted to be who I am,” he said of Club Q. “What are we supposed to do? Where are we supposed to go? How are we supposed to feel safe?”
Gil Rodriguez was at the club with his friend, Felicia Juvera, when the gunfire started. Juvera’s friend was working the DJ booth.
So many shots were fired, Rodriguez told CNN’s Erin Burnett, that he initially thought there were multiple shooters.
“I remember the sounds. I honestly thought it was the music until I smelled the actual gunpowder,” Juvera told CNN. “The smell is what got to me.”
Rodriguez said he used to serve in the military and that his instincts kicked in when he heard the gunshots. He urged Juvera to get down on the floor, then began scanning their surroundings after the gunfire stopped “to ensure that he (the gunman) wasn’t still in the room.” Then he called 911.
Juvera told CNN that her DJ friend was injured in the shooting but is expected to recover.
Another patron, Barrett Hudson, said he heard the pops and looked to his right to see the gunman shoot a man right in front of him.
Hudson, who told CNN’s John Berman he had moved to Colorado only a few weeks earlier, took off running towards the back of the club.
“I got shot a few times. I fell down. He proceeded to shoot me. I got back up. I made it out of the back of the club” and ran across the street to a 7-Eleven, he said.
Hudson said he sustained seven gunshot wounds and doesn’t know how he survived.
“I did not expect to make it,” he told CNN. “Seven bullets missed my spine, missed my liver, missed my colon. I got really, really lucky. I don’t know how I’m here.”
Retired Army Major Richard M. Fierro, 45, was at a table in the club with his wife, daughter and some friends when the gunfire started.
In an emotional interview Monday, he told CNN’s Berman that his military instincts kicked in when he saw the gunman, who was wearing a flak vest and wielding a rifle. The gunman was heading toward a door that led to a patio, he said.
Fierro got up and charged the man, knocking him to the ground. Another Club Q patron, Thomas James, helped Fierro tackle the suspect.
Fierro said he grabbed the gunman’s other weapon, a handgun, “and then just start hitting him where I could. I found a crease between his armor and his head, and I just started wailing away with his gun.”
Army vet who helped stop Club Q shooter describes what happened
But Fierro insists he was simply trying to protect his family and friends.
“I’m not a hero. I’m just a guy that wanted to protect his kids and wife, and I still didn’t get to protect her boyfriend,” he said.
Raymond Green Vance, one of the five people killed in the shooting, was the boyfriend of Fierro’s daughter.
“My daughter is grieving the loss of her boyfriend,” Fierro told CNN. “He was in our lives for six years.”
It’s a tragedy that Fierro and the other people at Club Q on Saturday will likely never forget.
“This whole thing was a lot,” he said, choking back tears. “My daughter, wife, should have never experienced combat in Colorado Springs, and everybody in that building experienced combat that night … because they were forced to.”