Suspect in gay nightclub shooting in Colorado held without bail as details of past emerge

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 as details about his past began to emerge.

In an initial court appearance Wednesday, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, could be seen slumped over in a chair with face and head injuries visible on 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. (According to a Tuesday court filing by the Colorado Public Defender’s Office, Aldrich’s pronouns are they/them.)

On Saturday night, authorities allege, Aldrich walked into a Club Q and opened fire. Four days later, mystery still surrounds the suspect. Police have not provided a motive for the attack, and it appears Aldrich had little social media or online presence.

Scattered elements of his biography — a name change, a 2021 arrest in which their mother accused him of threatening her with a homemade bomb, a family connection to a California lawmaker — have emerged. But much is still unknown.

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 child had.

In the months before Aldrich allegedly opened fire on a Colorado Springs, Colorado, LGBTQ nightclub, killing five and wounding 18 others, their mother posted in a Facebook group for women in the Church of the Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, asking for help for her child.

In February, she asked for recommendations for a “trauma/PTSD therapist,” writing in a comment that it was for a “21-year-old,” the same age as Aldrich at the time.

Nearly three months later, she asked whether anyone could refer her child to a private boxing coach, who she described as “6′6″ tall and hits like a freight train.”

“Cannot find a good gym or anyone serious,” she wrote. The post said her child had made huge life changes and needs this!”

Aldrich was born May 20, 2000, to Laura Voepel and Aaron Brink in California, according to Orange County court records. The next year, Brink filed for divorce, in which Laura Voepel was given full custody of their child with no visitation rights granted to Brink.

In the following years, Aldrich moved around with their mother to Texas and then to Colorado, at times living with their maternal grandmother. They also have a younger brother, according to Laura Voepel’s Facebook page.

Aldrich is the grandchild of California Assemblyman Randy Voepel, a Santee Republican, an aide for the legislator told the Los Angeles Times on Monday. The state representative previously aligned himself with the tea party movement and later drew criticism for comments that likened the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to the shots fired at “Lexington and Concord” in the Revolutionary War. Randy Voepel declined to comment further about his grandchild Monday, the aide said.

Aldrich was arrested in June 2021 in a suburban Colorado Springs neighborhood where they and their mother lived at the time, after his mother, Laura Voepel, reported her child threatened her with “a homemade bomb, multiple weapons and ammunition,” according to a press release from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. The incident ended in a long standoff with deputies and the evacuation of nearby homes, but officials said they did not find any explosive devices after Aldrich’s arrest. The charges in the case were later dismissed, though officials have not explained that decision.

The incident occurred at the home of Leslie Bowman, who at the time was renting a room to Aldrich’s mother. Bowman shared videos from her Ring security camera from the incident, which showed Aldrich — who she said went by Andy — entering her house with a suitcase, while talking to their mother.

In the video, Aldrich said to their mother: “The police have surrounded that house. This is where I stand, OK? … Today I die.”

Laura Voepel responded, “What is happening?”

“They don’t give a f— about me anymore, clearly,” Aldrich replied.

It isn’t clear from the video to whom they are referring. In another video Bowman recorded of a Facebook Live stream, which Bowman said Aldrich posted during the standoff, Aldrich can be seen wearing what appears to be a helmet and some sort of body armor.

“This is your boy,” they said on the recorded livestream. “If they breach, Ima (sic) f—ing blow it to holy hell!”

In the last Ring video from the incident, Aldrich was seen leaving Bowman’s house about three hours later, surrendering with their hands in the air. They were no longer wearing the helmet or body armor. The report from the sheriff’s office said they were arrested without any issues.

Bowman said Aldrich’s mother moved out of the room she was renting about two days later, and she hasn’t kept up with either Laura Voepel or Aldrich since. At the time, Aldrich lived about a mile away with their grandparents — the same grandparents who assisted with their name change — but would often visit their mother, Bowman said. She said the teen was never talkative, and said the mother and son would often watch movies together.

They “would come over from time to time, sometimes once or twice a week,” Bowman said. She described Aldrich as “pretty quiet.”

She said there was only one other incident in which Aldrich became aggressive with her, getting in her face and slamming the door on her after a dispute between Bowman and Laura Voepel in early 2020. But Bowman said they didn’t become physically violent, and she chalked it up to being protective of their mother. Bowman said she didn’t know whether Aldrich, then 20, was in school or working.

There’s also no public record that police or relatives tried to trigger Colorado’s “red flag” law after Aldrich’s 2021 arrest, which could have allowed authorities to seize any weapons or ammunition in Aldrich’s possession, or prevent them from purchasing any, at least temporarily.

Bowman said she is still most concerned that the charges against Aldrich were dropped.

“In an incident as serious as that, there should be at least some sort of plea deal, just something, to keep (them) on the radar,” Bowman said. “If those charges were pursued, (they) would probably be in prison or some kind of probation … (and) this wouldn’t have happened.”

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 their grandparents, who were their 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 2 1/2 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.

Aldrich’s request for a name change came months after Aldrich was apparently targeted by online bullying. A website posting from June 2015 that attacked a teen named Nick Brink suggests they may have been bullied in high school. The post included photos similar to ones of the shooting suspect and ridiculed Brink over their weight, lack of money and what it said was an interest in Chinese cartoons.

Additionally, 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.

In the mass shooting at Club Q, Aldrich was beaten into submission by patrons 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.

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.

The judge set the next hearing for Dec. 6.

Court documents laying out Aldrich’s arrest were sealed at the request of prosecutors.

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.

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 halted by two club patrons including Richard Fierro, who told reporters that he took a handgun from Aldrich, hit them with it and pinned them down 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.

–The Associated Press and Los Angeles Times contributed

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