Ashtin Gamblin was working the door at Club Q last November, wearing a hoodie, when she let in a huge, 6’4” patron for that Saturday night’s festivities in the hopping Colorado Springs LGBTQ+ hotspot. She joked as she struggled with the wristband for Anderson Lee Aldrich before all 280 pounds of the 22-year-old disappeared into the crowd, where families, friends and lovers gathered happily to celebrate birthdays and enjoy a drag performance.
Aldrich walked among them, watching as they socialised, Club Q’s beloved bartenders serving up drinks and banter amidst the merriment and music. Ashtin had become close with her coworkers, particularly bar staff Daniel Aston, 28, and Derrick Rump, 38, who were working that night alongside Michael Anderson. The next time Ashtin would see Aldrich’s lumbering figure, bullets would be tearing through her body, despite Daniel’s valiant efforts to save her by standing between Ashtin and the shooter. As Aldrich continued the relentless attack, Ashtin covered herself in her friend’s blood and buried her head into his body, playing dead. She thought about the school massacre in Uvalde.
Ashtin recounted all of this exactly seven months and seven days after Aldrich opened fire at Club Q, killing Daniel and Derrick along with Kelly Loving, 40; Ashley Paugh, 35; and Raymond Green Vance, 22. Aldrich pleaded guilty this week to charges including five counts of murder and 46 counts of attempted murder, and many of the same Club Q patrons from that tragic night of 19 November 2022 found themselves again breathing the same air as the person whose hate-filled actions forever changed their lives and community.
While the hulking, handcuffed Aldrich declined to speak on Monday — a lawyer instead offering a weak, impersonal and somewhat sheepish apology in his client’s stead — survivors and their relatives stood resolutely before the same judge who handed down a sentence of more than 2,000 years for Aldrich. Their testimony not only belied a fierce strength and defiance; it also formed a detailed and forensic account of the terror and heroism inside Club Q on that horrifying, now-infamous night — in the words of the people who witnessed it firsthand.
Anderson Lee Aldrich pleads guilty to 53 charges for killing five in Club Q shooting
Michael, behind the bar, had been most concerned on 19 November about whether to take an Uber after shift or drive himself home as he worked alongside Daniel and Derrick. Both, like so many in Colorado, were transplants from other states; Daniel, 28, hailed from Oklahoma, while Derrick, 38, had come all the way from Pennsylvania. They’d often promise to keep Ashtin safe as they shouted to her mother over the phone when Cheryl Norton called to chat with her daughter. The Illinois mother felt like she knew the pair, whose loyalty, generosity and compassion were famous among their friends and family.
“Derrick was a light to so many people … whether they needed a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear or just someone to be there, Derrick would take on so much weight for others just so see them shine again,” his cousin said Monday in an audio message played in court. “Derrick was so unbelievably selfless; he would give you the shirt off his back, his last dollar, his last bit of food, and he would expect nothing in return, even if that meant he would be without.”
As Derrick, Daniel and Michael slung drinks, among the customers was regular Edward Sanders, who’d been coming to Club Q for decades. Wyatt Kent, a patron and performer, was there celebrating his birthday. His friend from second grade, Kassandra Fierro, was also in the club with her parents and long-term boyfriend, Raymond Green Vance, whom Wyatt had also become friendly with in the six years the couple had been dating.
Delusional, the night’s drag show producer and host, came on stage, called out birthday wishes and proclaimed their happiness at having the opportunity to perform for such a crowd at such a venue. Then the performer walked backstage — and caught the sound of gunfire.
“All I could hear were the gunshots and the music that continued to play,” Delusional said in a statement. “I didn’t see anything; I only heard. Though I didn’t see anything, these rounds haunt me in every moment of my life. I didn’t know it then, but I was listening to my friends die.”
Aldrich had temporarily left the club but returned in protective gear with guns and ammunition and opened fire. Customer Kelly Loving — described by her sibling, Tiffany, as “my compass, my best friend, my sister” in a statement read by her lawyer on Monday — was cut down at just age 40. She fell to the ground right by Edward, who was also shot repeatedly and drifting in and out of consciousness.
Kelly, he said Monday, “fell right by my side … she was not breathing. I watched her die right in front of me.”
The bullets continued to rain down.
Raymond Green Vance, just 22, was fatally hit as his girlfriend and her family, along with the rest of Club Q, struggled to escape and comprehend what was happening. Derrick, described by his family as “someone who would give you the shirt off his back,” was also killed by Aldrich’s bullets.
Ashtin and her family fought hard to get the words out on Monday as they detailed how Daniel tried to save her life.
“Daniel stood in front of my wife when the killer … shot my wife nine times – but he took the brunt of it,” Ashtin’s husband, Ryan, said of the murdered 28-year-old. “He is a hero. He is the definition of a hero.”
Ryan had been at the end of a nine-month deployment overseas, one week away from coming home, when he received the shocking phone call that his wife had been shot. Ashtin had also left him a plaintive, cryptic voicemail on the night, screaming his name — a haunting voicemail she played in court on Monday.
As she lay covered in Daniel’s blood in November, however — desperately hoping for a better police response than the one she’d heard about in Uvalde, where a school shooter killed 21 almost exactly six months earlier — Club Q patrons were mounting a counter-assault on the shooter.
Thomas James, a serving member of the Navy, was on the patio outside Club Q when the shooting began, authorities said Monday at a conference after the hearing.
“As the defendant approached that area of the club, he moved himself towards the doors that the shooter would come through,” 4th Judicial District Attorney Michael Allen said. “In the process, he was struck in the abdomen. Despite being wounded by a gunshot, he engaged with the shooter and undoubtedly saved countless lives.
“His actions were quite simply heroic, selfless and an example of humanity that we should all strive to achieve. Because he was wounded, his strength was quickly draining from him, and he was joined by Richard Fierro carrying on the attack on the defendant.”
Kassandra’s father and an Army veteran with overseas combat experience, Rich Fierro felt his instinct and military training kick in as he shouted at and beat the shooter. Ashtin could hear through the shock and confusion.
“When the music stopped, I could hear screams … one of which was screaming about killing the responsible party,” she said on Monday. “I wish they had.”
Aldrich, however, had attempted to wrestle out from the Army veteran’s grasp — only to be thwarted by the final witness who gave dramatic testimony on Monday.
Drea Norman had been only eight or nine meters from Club Q’s entrance when Aldrich “almost enthusasticaly pulled up to the front door of the club, raised his rifle and stormed the building,” Drea said this week, arriving near the end of court proceedings and prompting a temporary pause in the prosecution’s address to the judge.
“I saw muzzle flashes and barely noticed a window to my right exploded before I dropped to the floor as fast as I could, thinking, ‘Holy f***, this is actually happening,’” Drea said Monday in an emotional firsthand account. “My daze was quickly broken by an instinctual urge to survive and the possibility that the shooter would come back to finish people off – so I crawled on my hands and knees to make it to the kitchen, where I thought it’d be the safest place to escape.”
On the way, Drea passed Raymond Green Vance, calling out and checking for vitals with no success, before sheltering in the freezer until there was a pause in shooting – when Drea made the brave but terrifying decision to venture back out to check on loved ones.
“I then found Mr Aldrich held down with Tom and Richard Fierro and found my partner shaken, bloodied and in tears; she sat next to Mr Aldrich’s third victim, Derrick,” Drea said Monday. “I could only tell that he was hit in the neck, but the look on his face told me everything.
“I heard Richard shouting that he needed help; the shooter was crawling away from the grasp that he had him in … I stood above him; my only thought was, thrown my foot down, stop him — and after I would imagine what was 10 strikes I stopped, feeling like that was more than enough. And I walked away at the same time; that was when the police came in and they were looking for Mr Aldrich and I pointed, gesturing at him … and they proceeded to detain and arrest him.”
Drea continued — poised, tall and standing straight: “I want everyone here today to understand that this was deliberate. It almost looked excitable to the shooter. And as I left to go home and clean up all the blood on me, I knew that I would probably never go out again.”
That residual trauma was repeated over and over on Monday by survivors, their relatives and the loved ones of the dead. Ashtin — deliberately wearing a replica of the same hoodie she’d worn as she handed Aldrich a Club Q wristband before the shooting spree — lowered it to show her physical scars. She’s reconsidering her plans to have children, and her intended career in forensics no longer holds the same appeal after such a vicious crime upended her own life. Her mother sleeps with guard dogs; Daniel’s parents can’t fill the hole in their hearts and lives.
Ashley Paugh’s adolescent daughter is now motherless but continuing her parent’s legacy by choosing to forgive the shooter — unlike many others in the family.
“My 11-year-old niece wants to forgive you, because she says that’s what she feels her mom would want her to do,” Ashley’s sister said in a statement to Aldrich on Monday. “My sister taught her to be a caring and forgiving person, and I’m glad she still has that innocent mind and hasn’t realised what an evil world we really live in.”
Ashley’s husband, Kurt, steeled himself while describing his high school sweetheart, who devoted her life to working with foster families and “would have had a conversation with this low-life with no judgment whatsoever.”
“Her love and joy for these children and these families was so special and person to her,” he said of his wife’s work. “Those families and these children are also feeling the loss of Ashley, who was taken by one senseless act of hate. It hurts that this monster gets to spend the rest of his life in prison living off our tax dollars … [and] rot in loneliness and hate.
“My wife’s name — Ashley Marie Paugh — will live on through memories, through her loved ones and especially her daughter.”
Kelly Loving’s relatives, too, hoped that her life and legacy would continue to inspire others to love, despite the fact that hatred caused her death.
“I don’t want to let my sadness turn to anger, because I know Kelly spent her time eliminating stigma and bias,” Tiffany Loving’s statement continued, adding: “Today, I ask everyone to embrace our differences and denounce hate and violence. I refuse to let my sister be erased by ongoing violence against the LGBTQ community.”
The family of Derrick Rump, still in disbelief, reiterated that he “did not deserve this; he deserved to life a full and loving life with his family and friends,” his cousin said in an audio message played in court.
“Derrick’s inner strength and wisdom will forever be missed but never forgotten,” she continued. “His laughter and smile will continue to live on through stories.”
Despite that, however his family has “no forgiveness in our hearts for” Aldrich, she said.
“We hope he never has a good night’s sleep,” Derrick’s cousin said, adding: “We hope he never has a reason to smile … we hope he is greeted with the same hatred every day that he has shown. We hope he never has another day’s peace, because the only peace our family will know is that one day this awful being will die — and we know that, when it comes time for his [final] judgement, he will be going straight to hell to rot.”
Jessica Fierro, after watching her daughter’s boyfriend shot dead, her husband subdue a gunman in their hometown and sustaining injury herself, angrily called Aldrich on Monday “not a human” and “a monster, a killer, a murderer, a failure, a coward, a racist, a bigot, an embarrassment to society who has earned a one-way ticket to eternity in prison five times over and then some.”
Kassandra, speaking after her, lamented how the family had embarked upon an unassuming, fun night — only to have “our entire futures ripped from us because of that evil man”.
“I will never get to grow old with my person,” she said. “I will never get the chance to marry the love of my life. I will never get to start a family with Raymond. I will never get to see or hear or feel Raymond ever again. I will never, ever be able to unsee my future laying in a casket before me. All of this for no reason.”
Ashtin, her voice still steely and resolute after fighting for her life while watching her friends die less than a year ago, minced no words when it came to her thoughts about Aldrich’s punishment.
“I wish this was a death penalty state,” she said. “Not because I want him to die; that would be too easy. I want him to sit in a jail cell not knowing when he’s going to die and what could be his last breath … like he did to us.”
But she and everyone else emphasised the need for strength and unity going forward – but especially remembrance of the Club Q family members who could no longer speak for themselves.
“The number ‘five’ is cold,” Ashtin’s father, Bill Norton, said in a statement she read in court. “It’s a statistic. It doesn’t convey what truly happened … how much we truly lost. We should always remember that the number represents Daniel. We should also remember the number five represents Derrick.”
It represents Kelly Loving. It represents Ashley Paugh. It represents Raymond Green Vance.
“All of them had their own unique place in this world,” Mr Norton said. “All of whom are now gone and will never been seen again.”
Every speaker on Monday urged remembrance of those names – along with the names of the heroes who saved more lives: Thomas James. Richard Fierro. Drea Norman. They spoke proudly and with conviction, determined to keep the Colorado Springs shooting in the minds of the community and the country.
“Sadly, mass shootings have become almost commonplace,” Mr Norton said. “And what makes this even worse is that, when something becomes commonplace, it becomes easy to dismiss.”
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