COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The suspected shooter, who may face hate crime charges in the fatal shooting of five people at a Colorado Springs gay nightclub, is scheduled to make his first court appearance Wednesday from jail after shooting a had been discharged from the hospital the day before.
Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, who was beaten into submission by guests during Saturday night’s shooting at Club Q, was due to appear at the hearing via video. The motive for the shooting is still under investigation, but authorities said Aldrich faces possible murder and hate crime charges.
Hate crime charges would have to prove that the shooter was motivated by prejudice, such as against the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The charges against Aldrich are preliminary and prosecutors have not yet filed any formal charges. Aldrich is being represented by Joseph Archambault, a Senior Counsel for the District Attorney. Bureau lawyers do not comment on the cases to the media.
Defense attorneys said late Tuesday that the suspect was non-binary. Standard court filings filed by the defense team refer to the suspect as “Mx. Aldrich,” and the attorneys’ footnotes assert that Aldrich is nonbinary and she/she uses pronouns. The motions address issues such as unsealing documents and gathering evidence, not Aldrich’s identity, and no further explanation was provided.
Aldrich’s name was changed more than six years ago as a teenager after he filed a legal petition in Texas 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 he turned 16, Aldrich petitioned a Texas court for a name change, court filings show. A name change request was filed on Brink’s behalf by her grandparents, who were her legal guardians at the time.
“Minor wants to protect himself and his future from any connection to his biological father and his criminal history. Father has not had contact with minors for several years,” reads the petition, filed in Bexar County, Texas.
The suspect’s father is a mixed martial artist and pornographic actor with an extensive criminal history, including assault convictions against the suspect’s mother, Laura Voepel, both before and after the suspect’s birth, as per state and federal law enforcement court records emerge. A 2002 misdemeanor battery misdemeanor 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 amended to allow supervised visits with the allow child.
The father was also sentenced to 2 1/2 years for importing marijuana and violated his terms during the supervised release by testing positive for illegal steroids, according to public records. Brink could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Aldrich’s request for a name change came months after Aldrich was reportedly the target of online bullying. A June 2015 website post attacking a teenager named Nick Brink suggests he may have been bullied in high school. The post included photos resembling those of the suspect who was shooting and mocked Brink for her weight, lack of funds and interest in Chinese cartoons.
A YouTube account was also opened in Brink’s name, which featured an animation titled “Asian gay man being harassed.”
The name change and bullying were first reported by the Washington Post.
Court documents detailing Aldrich’s arrest were sealed at the request of prosecutors. Aldrich was discharged from the hospital and 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 charge would carry the harshest sentence — life in prison — while crimes of prejudice carry probation. He also said it was important to show the community that crimes motivated by prejudice would not be tolerated.
Aldrich was arrested last year after her mother reported that her child threatened her with a homemade bomb and other weapons. Ringing video obtained by The Associated Press shows Aldrich arriving at her mother’s door on the day of the 2021 bomb threat with a large black bag, telling her the police are nearby and adding: “Here I stand. Today I die.”
Authorities at the time said no explosives were found, but gun control advocates have questioned why police didn’t use Colorado’s “red flag” laws to confiscate the guns Aldrich’s mother claims her child has.
The weekend’s attack took place at a nightclub known as a haven for the LGBTQ community in this mostly conservative city of about 480,000 people about 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of Denver.
A longtime Club Q patron who was shot in the back and thigh said the club’s reputation made him a target. In a video statement released by UC Health Memorial Hospital, Ed Sanders said he was thinking about what he would do in a mass shooting following the 2016 massacre of 49 people at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
“I think this incident underscores the fact that LGBT people need to be loved,” said Sanders, 63. “I want to be resilient. i am a survivor I will not be taken out by a sick person.”
The attack was stopped by two club guests, including Richard Fierro, who told reporters he took a pistol from Aldrich, hit her with it and with the help of another person held her until police arrived.
The victims were Raymond Green Vance, 22, a native of Colorado Springs who was saving money to buy his own apartment; Ashley Paugh, 35, a mother who has helped find homes for foster children; Daniel Aston, 28, who had worked as a bartender and entertainer at the club; Kelly Loving, 40, whose sister described her as “caring and sweet”; and Derrick Rump, 38, another club bartender known for his wit.
A database maintained by The Associated Press, USA Today, and Northeastern University that tracks every mass murder in America since 2006 shows that this year was particularly bad. There have been 40 mass murders in the US so far this year, second to the 45 for all of 2019. The database defines a mass murder as at least four people killed, not counting the killer.
Bedayn is a corps member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that brings journalists into local newsrooms to cover undercover topics.
Associated Press reporters Bernard Condon in New York, Jake Bleiberg in Dallas, Amy Forliti in Minneapolis, Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles, and news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed .
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