Mourners gather during a vigil at All Souls Unitarian Church on Nov. 20, following a shooting where at least five were killed and 18 injured at a gay night club in Colorado Springs. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

COLORADO SPRINGS — Hundreds of people sat and stood shoulder to shoulder Sunday afternoon inside All Souls Unitarian Church in downtown Colorado Springs with dozens of others gathered outside along the sidewalk. 

Gov. Jared Polis spoke virtually to the crowd and said his heart breaks for the victims and families of those affected by the shooting. He expressed his “immense gratitude” for the clubgoers who confronted the gunman, whom he called “heroes.”

“More people are alive today and more people returned home because of their heroic actions,” Polis said.

First Gentleman Marlon Reis called the shooting an attack on Colorado’s values and freedoms.

“Every single one of us deserves to feel safe in our communities. And last night wasn’t just an attack on an LGBTQ+ nightclub, it was an attack on the very values that we hold most dear across our state and across our country. It was an  attack on freedom,” Reis said. “Colorado should be a place where every person can live their life in peace, be who they are, love who they want to love. And we will settle for nothing less.”

Carolyn Cathey, a longtime activist in Colorado Springs, called attention to the changes in leadership in the city and state in the past several years, pointing to Polis, the state’s first openly gay governor, and state Rep. Leslie Herod, who is the first openly gay, Black woman elected to the state assembly.

“I need you to understand that in the last 40 years, the evolution that this town has taken,” Cathey said. “It is belly to belly, with open hearts, with honesty and integrity that brought to our table our leaders in Colorado Springs and that is no small feat. We will not be moved.”

The crowd stood in support of Cathey’s words. A roar of applause and stomping overtook the church. Thin white candles were handed out around the church as people passed the flame from their candle on to their neighbor. 

Herod, who attended high school in Colorado Springs, also attended the vigil and called for support for Colorado’s LGBTQ community. 

Mourners carry candles at a vigil at All Souls Unitarian Church on Nov. 20 in Colorado Springs. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

“The Colorado Springs community is full of love, and we cannot let the hatred that we saw last night take people’s perception of the entire community. But we need support down here,” Herod told The Colorado Sun. 

“From elected officials from school boards to community leaders, faith leaders are stoking the hate against LGBTQ people and trans youth and families and it has got to stop. … This act of violence, I can’t even call it senseless anymore because we can make sense of it. We see exactly where it is coming from. And we’ve got to stand up against it,” she said. 

Mathew Haynes, one of the owners of Club Q, said he arrived at the club less than 10 minutes after the shooting.

“I see over 20 years of people who grew up in Club Q, that changed Club Q, made their group of friends in Club Q. That may have walked into Club Q without a home, thinking that they were different and they found their friends and community there,” Haynes said. “Last night, one man went into our home and murdered five of our community.”

From the back of the church, a woman sobbed. 

Mourners gather during a vigil at All Souls Unitarian Church on Nov. 20, following a shooting where at least five were killed and 25 injured at a gay night club in Colorado Springs. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

“Club Q doesn’t have employees. Club Q doesn’t have customers. Club Q has friends and community,” Haynes said. 

Nadine Bridges, executive director of One Colorado, spoke out against anti-trans and LGBTQ rhetoric.

“We see you and we will not allow this to happen anymore,” Bridges said. The crowd inside the church applauded and stomped their feet in approval.

“This will not stop us. We will continue to stand strong and continue to fight,” Bridges said. “Remember that we deserve to be seen and heard at all times. We deserve love and honor.”

Olivia Prentzel

Olivia Prentzel is a general assignment writer for The Colorado Sun. Email: oliviaprentzel@coloradosun.com