Club Q shooting survivors, heroes speak out

Daniel Aston, left, and Wyatt Kent as drag queen Potted Plant, right.
Daniel Aston, left, and Wyatt Kent as drag queen Potted Plant, right.
Facebook/Wyatt Kent

It’s been just over two weeks since the shooting at Club Q. A community is forever changed. Two young love stories were cut short. A murder suspect was charged with possibly the most-ever charges filed against a single murder case in Colorado history.

Colorado Springs authorities officially charged Anderson Lee Aldrich with 305 counts of murder, hate crimes, and assault at a second hearing at the El Paso County Judicial Building December 6. Aldrich did not speak at the hearing.

Aldrich is accused of killing five people and injuring 17 others when they allegedly entered Club Q in body armor shooting with an AR-15 style rifle at 11:57 p.m. November 19. They also had a pistol. Aldrich, 22, claims to be non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, their public defenders said during their first court appearance November 23. Aldrich is being held without bail at the El Paso County Jail.

The individuals killed in the shooting were Club Q bartenders Daniel Aston, 28, a transgender man; Derrick Rump, 38, a gay man; Kelly Loving, 40, a transgender woman; and allies Ashley Paugh, 35, and Raymond Green Vance, 22.

Retired decorated United States Army veteran Richard Fierro, 45, and petty Navy officer Thomas James took out Aldrich within minutes, subduing the suspect until 12:03 a.m. on November 20 when police arrived on the scene. Fierro’s instinct from his military training — and his desire to protect his family — kicked in.

“We needed to do something for our family,” Richard Fierro told Gay City News in a phone interview. “Everybody in that room experienced combat that night, so their lives are forever changed.”

He added: “I think everybody in that room that night was a hero in their own way.”

Making sense of the shattered pieces

Wyatt Kent, a drag queen who goes by Potted Plant, survived the shooting. Kent has been piecing together every second after the shooter came into Club Q.

Only 40 seconds before the gunfire went off, he introduced his boyfriend, Aston, who had the night off at the bar, to his high school friend and best friend’s boyfriend, Green Vance.

Kent’s best friend, Kassy Fierro, 22, and Green Vance were high school sweethearts.

Aston and Kent’s love was just blossoming four and a half months into their relationship, but they were already talking marriage. The couple had been friends since Aston started working at Club Q about two years ago, Kent said.

“I gave Daniel a hug and a kiss. I told him I loved him and that I’d meet him back out on the patio,” Kent, who was having a beer before going on stage that night, told Gay City News. He was about to go help Aston’s parents plan his funeral.

Kassy Fierro and Green Vance were at Club Q with her father, Richard Fierro and four other people to celebrate Kent’s 23rd birthday and to see him perform.

Aston left toward the front door and Green Vance toward the other side of the bar. Then the shooting started. Loving fell on top of Kent. Kent called 911 and tried to save her; he grabbed her hand, squeezing, and repeating, “Keep squeezing my hand baby. Keep squeezing my hand.”

Loving was “gone at the scene,” Kent said.

Kent turned his attention to finding Aston. It was an agonizing 11-hour ordeal filled first with panic, then hope, then a devastating realization. At first, Kent was told Aston was taken to the hospital and was in surgery, but then he learned Aston never left Club Q.

“I was told by our security guard that Daniel saved the door girl’s life, which means that he was right there at the door,” Kent said. The New York Times reported a patron, Leia Arnold, said a bartender jumped in front of the shooter and died.

Aston died in the place the couple called the club home – they spent four to five nights a week there – and a safe space for Colorado Spring’s queer community.

A few days after the shooting, a police officer gave Kent the last letter he would receive from Aston. It was on his dressing room table with strawberries.

Kent’s best friend, Kassy Fierro, who broke her knee while taking cover, is also brokenhearted.

“I’ve never heard her cry like she was when we when we found Raymond had passed,” Richard Fierro told Gay City News. “As a father, that hurts. Just as a human, it hurts.”

Grief and anger

Richard Fierro wouldn’t go into the politics of recent anti-LGBTQ legislation and rhetoric, leaving it to the district attorney and the courts.

Kent blamed the radical right’s anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and called Aldrich’s claims to be non-binary and use the/them pronouns “bullshit.” Kent cited recent incidents of deadly violence and pointed fingers at Colorado Springs-based conservative think tank Focus on the Family and Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

“Perhaps the grooming is putting firearms in the hands of children at the age of four years old. Perhaps the grooming is instilling these political ideals and not letting anyone form unbiased opinions on their own,” Kent said angrily.

Focusing on Aldrich, Kent said, “He looks like every single face that tried to push me downstairs in high school — that flipped me over on my back with a heavy backpack so I couldn’t get back up in middle school. He looks like every single kid in elementary school who told me I was a faggot before any of us even knew what it meant.”

Giving thanks

Kent spent Thanksgiving with Aston’s parents and friends who came from Tulsa to Colorado Springs to meet Kent at a Friendsgiving celebration, he said.

“I’ve been surrounding myself with everyone that that loved him and just sharing his incredible memory,” Kent said. “It was just wonderful to be able to bring everyone together for that.”

On Thanksgiving weekend, Kent helped Aston’s parents clean out his apartment. He gathered the things that were precious to Aston and hundreds of poems that he wrote, some about him.

Kent vowed to honor Aston’s life by publishing his poetry and building a memorial.

“I have work to do,” Kent said. “I have his work to get into the world and I have his items that need to be seen through living memorials and in museums.”

Richard Fierro, who co-owns Atrevida Beer Company with his wife, Jessica Fierro, called for the violence to stop and for people to get to know their community.

“If you’re just nice to someone in your own community, I think that’s going to pay off in the long run,” he said. “We can’t have people doing this anymore.”

Colorado Public Radio reported that a tentative preliminary hearing has been set for February 22, 2023.

A list was created to help support Club Q performers. Club Q is temporarily closed until further notice.