COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – The suspected shooter faces possible hate crime charges in the shooting deaths of five people in Colorado Springs gay nightclub was ordered held without bail in a court appearance early Wednesday.
Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, can be seen slumped over in a chair with visible injuries on the suspect’s face and head in a brief video appearance from the jail. Aldrich appeared to need prodding by defense attorneys and gave a vague response when asked to state his name by El Paso County Court Judge Charlotte Ankeny.
The suspect was beaten into submission by patrons during our Saturday night shooting at Club Q and was released from the hospital on Tuesday. The motive for the shooting is still under investigation, but authorities say he faces possible murder and hate crime charges.
A hate crime charge would require proving that the shooter was motivated by bias, such as against the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The charges against Aldrich are preliminary, and prosecutors have yet to file formal charges. Aldrich was represented by Joseph Archambault, chief trial deputy with the state public defender’s office. Lawyers from the office did not comment on the case to the media.
Defense attorneys said late Tuesday that the suspect is non-binary and in court filings referred to the suspect as “Mx. Aldrich.” The lawyer’s footnote notes that Aldrich is non-binary and uses pronouns.
Prosecutor Michael Allen repeatedly referred to the suspect as “he” during a press briefing after the hearing and said the suspect’s gender status would not change anything about the case in his opinion. Allen said Aldrich is “physically competent” to stand trial.
Ankeny set the next hearing for December 6.
Aldrich’s name was changed more than six years ago as a teenager, after filing a legal petition in Texas to “protect himself” from a father who had a criminal history including domestic violence against Aldrich’s mother.
Aldrich was known as Nicholas Franklin Brink until 2016. Weeks before turning 16, Aldrich successfully petitioned a Texas court to change his name, court records show. A petition to change the name was submitted on behalf of Brink’s legal guardian at that time.
“The minor wants to protect himself and his future from his relationship with the birth father and his criminal history. The father has had no contact with the minor for several years,” said the petition filed in Bexar County, Texas.
The suspect’s father is a mixed martial arts fighter and pornography offender with an extensive criminal history, including convictions for battery against the alleged shooter’s mother, Laura Voepel, 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 this was later changed to allow supervised visitation with the child.
The father was also sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for importing marijuana and upon his release was supervised for violating his condition by testing positive for illegal steroids, according to public records. Brink could not be reached for comment.
One of the suspect’s grandfathers is Randy Voepel, an outgoing lawmaker in the California state assembly. The suspect’s mother, Laura Voepel, identified Randy Voepel as the father on her Facebook page in a 2020 post about his time in the state Legislature.
Voepel, a Republican, has a mixed voting record on LGBTQ bills. He compared the January 6 attack on the US Capitol to the Revolutionary War, calling it “the first shot fired against tyranny”. In response to the criticism, he went on to say that he does not “condemn or support the violence and crimes that have occurred.”
Randy Voepel did not return calls seeking comment. It’s unclear how close he was to the suspect.
Aldrich’s request to change his name comes months after Aldrich was apparently targeted by online bullying. A website from June 2015 attacking a teenager named Nick Brink suggests they may have been bullied in high school. The article included the same photo of one of the shooting suspects and berated Brink for his weight, lack of money and what he said was an interest in Chinese cartoons.
Additionally, a YouTube account was opened under Brink’s name that included an animation titled “Asian homosexuals harassed.”
The name change and bullying were first reported by The Washington Post.
Court documents outlining Aldrich’s arrest were sealed at the request of prosecutors.
Local and federal authorities have declined to answer questions about whether hate crime charges are being considered. District Attorney Michael Allen said the manslaughter charge would carry the harshest penalty — life in prison — while the misdemeanor charge was eligible for probation. He also said it was important to show the public that crimes motivated by bias would not be tolerated.
Aldrich was arrested last year after his mother reported that her son threatened her with homemade bombs and other weapons. Doorbell video obtained by The Associated Press shows Aldrich arriving at his mother’s front door with a large black bag on the day of the 2021 bomb threat, telling police nearby and adding, “This is where I stand. Today I die.”
Authorities at the time said no explosives were found, but gun control advocates questioned why police didn’t use Colorado’s “red flag” law to seize the weapon Aldrich’s mother said was her child.
Allen declined to answer questions related to the 2021 bomb threat after Wednesday’s court hearing.
The weekend attack took place at a nightclub known as a sanctuary for the LGBTQ community in this ultra-conservative city of about 480,000 about 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of Denver.
A longtime Club Q patron who shot said the club’s reputation was made a target. In a video statement, Ed Sanders said he was thinking about what he would do in a mass shooting after the 2016 killing of 49 people at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida..
“I think this incident confirms 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 sick people.”
Authorities said Aldrich was armed with a long gun and was stopped by two club patrons including Richard Fierro, who told reporters he took the pistol from Aldrich, hit them and pinned them down with help from other people until police arrived.
VICTIMS that Raymond Green Vance, 22, a native of Colorado Springs who saved money for his own apartment; Ashley Paugh, 35, a mother who helped find a home for her children; Daniel Aston, 28, who had worked at the club as a bartender and entertainer; Kelly Loving, 40, whose sister described him as “caring and sweet”; and Derrick Rump, 38, another club bartender known for his wit.
Bedayn is a crew member for 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 Undercovered issues.
Associated Press reporters Bernard Condon in New York, Jake Bleiberg in Dallas, Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles and news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed.