The alleged shooter faces possible hate crime charges in the fatal shooting ofat a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs in a first trial Wednesday.
Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, appeared on video from prison and was seen slumped in a chair with visible injuries to their face and head. Aldrich seemed to need urging from defense attorneys when asked to name their names by El Paso County Court Judge Charlotte Ankeny.
Aldrich was beaten into submission by patrons on Saturday nightand discharged from the hospital on Tuesday. The motive for the shooting is still under investigation, but authorities say he may face charges of murder and hate crimes.
Hate crime allegations would require proof that the shooter was motivated by bias, for example against the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the victims. The charges against Aldrich are preliminary and prosecutors have not yet filed formal charges. Aldrich is represented by Joseph Archambault, a senior prosecutor in the public defender’s office. Lawyers at the firm do not comment on matters to the media.
Defense attorneys said late Tuesday that the suspect is non-binary. Standard court documents filed by the defense team refer to the defendant as “Mx. Aldrich,” and the attorneys’ footnotes claim that Aldrich is non-binary and uses she/them pronouns. The motions are about things like unsealing documents and gathering evidence, not Aldrich’s identity and there was no elaboration on them.
Aldrich’s name was changed as a teenager more than six years ago, after he filed a legal petition in Texas to “protect” himself from a father with a criminal record, 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 records show. A petition for the name change was filed on behalf of Brink by their grandparents, who were their legal guardians at the time.
“The minor wants to protect himself and his future from any ties to his biological father and his criminal history. Father has not had contact with the minor for years,” the petition filed in Bexar County, Texas, reads.
The suspect’s father is a mixed martial arts fighter and porn performer with an extensive criminal history, including assault convictions against the alleged shooter’s mother, Laura Voepel, both before and after the suspect’s birth, according to state records. and federal court records. A felony conviction in California in 2002 resulted in a protection order that initially prohibited the father, Aaron F. Brink, from contacting the suspect or Voepel except through a lawyer, but was later amended to allow supervised visits with the child to make.
The father was also sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for importing marijuana and while under surveillance, he violated his terms 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 apparently the target of online bullying. A June 2015 website post attacking a teen named Nick Brink suggests they may have been bullied in high school. The post contained pictures similar to those of the shooting suspect and ridiculed Brink for their weight, lack of money and what it said was an interest in Chinese cartoons.
In addition, a YouTube account was opened in Brink’s name with an animation titled “Asian Homosexual Being Harassed”.
The name change and bullying were first reported by The Washington Post.
Court documents detailing Aldrich’s arrest have been 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 charges of murder carry the most severe penalty – life in prison – while felonies of bias are eligible for probation. He also said it was important to show the community that bias-motivated crimes will not be tolerated.
Aldrich was arrested last year after their mother reported that her child had threatened her with a homemade bomb and other weapons. Ring doorbell video obtained by The Associated Press shows Aldrich arriving at their mother’s front door with a large black bag on the day of the 2021 bomb threat, telling her the police were nearby and adding, “Here I am. Today I die.”
Authorities at the time said no explosives were found, but gun control advocates have questioned why police didn’t use “red flag” Colorado laws to seize the guns Aldrich’s mother says her child had.
The attack took place at a nightclub known as a haven for the LGBTQ community in this mostly conservative city of about 480,000, about 70 miles south of Denver.
A longtime Club Q client who was shot in the back and thigh said the club’s reputation made it a target. In a video statement from UC Health Memorial Hospital, Ed Sanders said he was contemplating what he would do in the event of a mass shooting following the 2016 massacre of 49 people at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
“I think this incident underscores the fact that LGBT people are meant to be loved,” says Sanders, 63. “I want to be resilient. I’m a survivor. I’m not going to let some sick person take me out.”
Authorities said Aldrich used a long gun in the attack which was stopped by two clubbers, including Richard Fierro, who told reporters that he took a gun from Aldrich, hit them with it, and pinned them down with help from another person until the police arrived.
The victims were Raymond Green Vance, 22, a Colorado Springs resident 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 humor.
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. The US has had 40 mass murders so far this year, second only to the 45 that occurred in all of 2019. The database defines a mass murder as at least four deaths, not counting the killer.
Bedayn is a member of the Corps of The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues.
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 New York news researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed.