Colorado Springs (AFP) – As barman Michael Anderson cowered on the patio of a nightclub, hiding from the gunman who was killing his friends and colleagues, he was convinced he was going to die too.
“I just felt alone, really alone and scared,” he said.
“I didn't even have my phone with me. I was afraid I wouldn't even get to say goodbye to my mother.”
Moments earlier he had been pouring drinks at Club Q, a long-established LGBTQ venue in Colorado Springs in the foothills of the US Rocky Mountains.
“I looked up and saw a shadow of a tall person holding a rifle. I saw the gun plainly… and then the shots continued… round after round after round. It was absolutely terrifying,” he told AFP.
“I ducked down behind the bar. Glass was just flying everywhere around me, like there were just bullets breaking bottles and whatever else was back there.”
Penned in and scared he was going to be targeted, Anderson crawled out to a patio where he and a co-worker wedged themselves between a wall and a booth, seeking any protection they could find.
Inside, the gunman, later identified by police as 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich, was shooting indiscriminately at clubbers in a rampage that would leave at least five dead at 18 wounded, some of them critically.
And he wasn't done yet.
“I saw a gun come out from the patio door, the barrel of a gun sticking out,” Anderson said.
“And that was the moment I was most terrified. Because I knew we were next.
“He was gonna find us.”
‘They saved my life'
What happened next has left Anderson eternally grateful to the people he describes as heroes.
Police say at least two individuals rushed at the shooter and overpowered him.
When Anderson next looked up, he saw the gunman pinned to the floor.
“There were some very brave people beating him and kicking him, stopping him from causing more damage,” he said.
“I don't know who did that. But I really would like to know because I'm very grateful. They saved my life last night.”
The United States is no stranger to acts of horrific violence, but for Anderson and other members of the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs, a city of around half a million people, the threat seemed somehow remote.
“The community here is tight-knit,” he said. “Everyone knows each other. We're a family, you know where we come together.
“When I started at Club Q… my general manager told me: ‘you're a part of our family. Now we're here for you.'
“We always thought this could never happen here; never Colorado Springs, never Club Q.
“But maybe that's something we tell ourselves so we can go out and feel safe.”
Anderson said he hopes the gunman will spend the rest of his life in prison, living with the full horror of his actions.
And America, he said, needs to be kinder.
Less than two weeks after an election in which several candidates amped up their anti-gay, anti-trans rhetoric in the rush for votes, politicians need to rethink their strategy, he said.
“The people spewing that may think that it's harmless, and it's just part of their culture war, but their culture war has real consequences I've seen firsthand.”