By JESSE BEDAYN
Associated Press/Report for America
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — In a crowded brewery, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis embraced Richard Fierro, the veteran hailed as a hero after tackling a shooter who killed five people and injured 17 others at the LGBTQ enclave Club Q last week.
There was a festive atmosphere Tuesday at Atrevida Beer, owned by Fierro, where patrons clutched pints of beer, a long line stretched across the room to the door, and above the bar was printed a message: “Diversity, it’s on tap.”
Fierro’s event, where Polis and the Colorado Springs mayor both made an appearance, was the paradigm of a catchphrase Fierro has repeated since the shooting: “Be nice, hug each other, take care of your neighbor.”
The hugs seemed contagious. Fierro squeezed Wyatt Kent, a drag queen whose 23rd birthday was being celebrated the night of the shooting, and chatted with his family.
Kent, who’s drag name is Potted Plant, was still reeling from the horrific night. Kent remembered shots, then collapsing below Kelly Loving, who had been shot in the chest. Squeezing her hand as they asked Siri to call 911, Kent then held Loving’s head, repeating “one more breath, just one more breath” before paramedics arrived.
The bleeding from Loving’s chest, was “like a hole in an air mattress,” said Kent, pausing and looking away. Loving was among the five dead, along with Daniel Aston, who Kent was in a relationship with. Aston had left strawberries, roses and a card for Kent’s birthday before he was killed.
Kent, who’d written 119 poems about Aston, went completely numb in the days afterward. Then, they began connecting with Aston’s family and friends, those “who loved him, it’s really healing,” they said.
Club Q’s community had been a steadfast support network, said Kent, one which has continued to undergird the community’s healing since the tragedy.
“If I pour myself out into others they will pour themselves out back into me,” said Kent, “and that’s what this community has always done.”
The broader Colorado Springs community is pouring out support for the survivors, too. At his brewery, Fierro was honored with $50,000 from a local credit union.
“I’ve never had that much money in my life,” said an astonished Fierro, who reiterated that “everyone in (Club Q) was a hero.”
Matt Gendron, chief engagement officer at Ent Credit Union and who’s employee had been in Club Q that night, said that Fierro “saved the lives of many people, including one of our family members.”
Earlier that day, Polis solemnly walked along a line of flowers, crosses and signs bearing the photos and names of the victims outside Club Q in Colorado Springs.
When he reached the end, he picked up a piece of pink chalk and drew a heart and wrote “We remember” on the pavement in front of the memorial, which had been covered with tarps to protect it from snow until his arrival.
“Five people are lost forever. We celebrate their lives. We mourn them,” Polis said while speaking to reporters afterward at the site.
Polis, who spoke earlier in the day to relatives of those killed as well as the injured, wore a gay pride ribbon pinned to the zipper of his puffy jacket. The Democrat, who became the first openly gay man elected governor in the U.S. in 2018, said he was concerned about rhetoric associating mainly transgender people with grooming and pedophilia and feared it could “inspire acts against the LGBTQ community.”
But he was also optimistic about the future of the club, a sanctuary for the LGBTQ community in the mostly conservative city of 480,000, located about 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of Denver.
“Club Q will be back and the community will be back,” he said.
The attacker opened fire Nov. 19 with a semiautomatic rifle inside the gay nightclub before being subdued by patrons and arrested by police who arrived within minutes, authorities have said.
The motive remains under investigation and one person is in custody.
Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, was being held without bond on suspicion of murder and hate crimes. Aldrich was arrested at the club after being stopped and beaten by patrons.
Hate crime charges would require proving that the shooter was motivated by bias, such as against the victims’ actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
Prosecutors have not yet filed formal charges against Aldrich, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, according to court filings by his lawyers.
Aldrich was arrested last year after a relative reported Aldrich was threatening her with a homemade bomb and other weapons, according to authorities.
Ring doorbell video obtained by The Associated Press shows Aldrich arriving at their mother’s front door with a big black bag the day of the 2021 bomb threat, telling her the police were nearby and adding, “This is where I stand. Today I die.”
Authorities at the time said no explosives were found.