The alleged shooter facing possible hate crime charges in the fatal shooting of five people at a Colorado Springs gay nightclub was ordered held without bail in an initial court appearance Wednesday.
Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, could be seen slumped over in a chair with injuries visible on the suspect’s face and head in a brief video appearance from jail. Aldrich appeared to need prompting by defense attorneys and offered a slurred response when asked to state their name by El Paso County Court Judge Charlotte Ankeny.
Aldrich, who was armed with an AR-15-style semi-automatic weapon, a handgun, and additional ammunition began shooting Nov. 19, 2022, inside the gay nightclub Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The incident left five people dead and 17 others injured.
The suspect was beaten into submission by patrons during Saturday night’s shooting at Club Q and released from the hospital Tuesday. The motive in the shooting was still under investigation, but authorities said he faces possible murder and hate crime charges.
Located in the traditionally red El Paso County—home to three Department of Defense military bases, o Army, Air Force and Space Force bases and a region former President Donald Trump won with 56.2% of the vote in 2016—Colorado Springs is home to many conservative evangelical groups including, notably, Focus on the Family.
In the early 1990s, a time when gay rights were the subject of increasing restriction in many places across the U.S., the city had developed a reputation as a hub of anti-LGBTQ sentiment.
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. The charges against Aldrich are preliminary, and prosecutors have not yet filed formal charges.
Aldrich is represented by Joseph Archambault, a chief trial deputy with the state public defender’s office. Lawyers from the office do not comment on cases to the media.
Prosecutor Michael Allen said the suspect is “physically competent” to stand trial.
Ankeny set the next hearing for Dec. 6.
Aldrich’s name was changed more than six years ago as a teenager, after filing a legal petition in Texas seeking to “protect himself” from a father with a criminal history including domestic violence against Aldrich’s mother.
Aldrich was known as Nicholas Franklin Brink until 2016. Weeks before turning 16, Aldrich petitioned a Texas court for a name change, court records show. A petition for the name change was submitted on Brink’s behalf by the defendant’s grandparents, who were his legal guardians at the time.
“Minor wishes to protect himself and his future from any connections to birth father and his criminal history. Father has had no contact with minor for several years,” said the petition filed in Bexar County, Texas.
The suspect’s father is a mixed martial arts fighter and pornography performer with an extensive criminal history, including convictions for battery against the alleged shooter’s mother, Laura Voepel, both before and after the suspect was born, state and federal court records show.
A 2002 misdemeanor battery conviction in California resulted in a protective order that initially barred the father, Aaron F. Brink, from contacting the suspect or Voepel except through an attorney, but was later modified to allow monitored visits with the child.
The father also was sentenced to 2½ years in custody for importation of marijuana and while on supervised release violated his conditions by testing positive for illegal steroids, according to public records. Brink could not be reached for comment.
In the aftermath of the incident, it was revealed that Aldrich was the grandson of California State Assemblyman and Vietnam War veteran Randy Voepel.
Voepel is a Republican who is serving the last days of his term after losing his bid for reelection to represent California’s 71st Assembly District, which includes portions of Riverside County and San Diego County.
Aldrich and his paternal grandfather had not had a familial relationship for around a decade.
Aldrich’s request for a name change came months after he was apparently targeted by online bullying. A website posting from June 2015 that attacked a teen named Nick Brink suggests he may have been bullied in high school. The post included photos similar to ones of the shooting suspect and ridiculed Brink over his weight, lack of money and what it said was an interest in Chinese cartoons.
A YouTube account was opened in Brink’s name that included an animation titled “Asian homosexual gets molested.”
The name change and bullying were first reported by The Washington Post.
Court documents laying out Aldrich’s arrest were sealed at the request of prosecutors. Aldrich was released from the hospital and was being held at the El Paso County jail, police said.
Local and federal authorities have declined to answer questions about why hate crime charges were being considered.
District Attorney Michael Allen noted that the murder charges would carry the harshest penalty — life in prison — whereas bias crimes are eligible for probation. He also said it was important to show the community that bias motivated crimes are not tolerated.
Aldrich was arrested last year after his mother reported that he threatened her with a homemade bomb and other weapons. Ring doorbell video 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.”
The alleged Colorado nightclub shooter wanted to be “the next mass killer” – and whined that his grandparents’ plans to move down south would ruin a plot to build a bomb, according to records from a previous arrest.
Aldrich flew into a rage and threatened to kill his grandparents when they told them they had sold their house and planned to move to Florida in June 2021, according to media reports based on official records.
The incident ended with a SWAT team swarming Aldrich’s mother’s home, more than a year before he allegedly stormed an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs and killed five people.
The results in the 2021 bomb-threat incident are under seal and it’s not clear whether the charges were dismissed, it is puzzling why Aldrich still had access to deadly weapons after the incident.
Authorities at the time said no explosives were found, but gun-control advocates have asked why police didn’t use Colorado’s “red flag” laws to seize the weapons Aldrich’s mother says her son had.
Allen declined to answer questions related to the 2021 bomb threat following Wednesday’s court hearing.
The weekend assault took place at a nightclub known as a sanctuary for the LGBTQ community in this mostly conservative city of about 480,000 about 70 miles south of Denver.
A longtime Club Q patron who was shot said the club’s reputation made it a target. Speaking in a video statement released by UC Health Memorial Hospital, Ed Sanders said he thought about what he would do in a mass shooting after the 2016 massacre of 49 people at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
“I think this incident underlines the fact that LGBT people need to be loved,” said Sanders, 63. “I want to be resilient. I’m a survivor. I’m not going to be taken out by some sick person.”
Authorities said Aldrich used a long rifle and was stopped by two club patrons including former Army Major Richard Fierro, who told reporters that he took a handgun from Aldrich, hit the attacker with it and pinned down the assailant with help from another person until police arrived.
The victims were Raymond Green Vance, 22, a Colorado Springs native who was saving money to get his own apartment; Ashley Paugh, 35, a mother who helped find homes for foster children; Daniel Aston, 28, who had worked at the club as a bartender and entertainer; Kelly Loving, 40, whose sister described her as “caring and sweet”; and Derrick Rump, 38, another club bartender known for his wit.
A database run by the AP, USA Today and Northeastern University that tracks every mass killing in America going back to 2006 shows that the U.S. has now had 40 mass killings so far in 2022. That compares with 45 for all of 2019, the highest year in the database, which defines a mass killing as at least four people killed, not including the killer.