COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – The suspected shooter faces possible hate crime charges in the fatal shooting of five people At a Colorado Springs gay nightclub, a first court appearance on Wednesday was ordered to be held without bail when the suspect sat slumped in a chair.
Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, appeared in a brief video appearance from prison with visible injuries to his face and head. Aldrich appeared to be prompted by defense attorneys and gave a slurred response when asked by El Paso District Court Judge Charlotte Ankeny to provide her name.
The suspect was beaten into submission by patrons during Saturday night’s filming at Club Q and discharged from the hospital on Tuesday. The motive for the shooting is still under investigation, but authorities said he may face 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 and identified in court documents as “Mx. Aldrich.” The attorneys’ footnotes claim that Aldrich is nonbinary and she/she uses pronouns.
Prosecutor Michael Allen repeatedly referred to the suspect as “he” during a press conference following the hearing and said that in his opinion the suspect’s gender status would not change the case. Allen said Aldrich was “physically able” to face charges.
Ankeny has scheduled the next hearing for December 6th.
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 successfully petitioned a Texas court for a name change, court filings show. A name change request was made on behalf of Brink by his then legal guardians.
“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.
One of the suspect’s grandfathers is Randy Voepel, an outgoing legislator in the California state assembly. The suspect’s mother, Laura Voepel, identified Randy Voepel as her father on her Facebook page in a 2020 post about his time in the state Legislature.
Voepel, a Republican, has had a mixed voting record on LGBTQ bills. He likened the January 6 attack on the US Capitol to the Revolutionary War, calling it the “first shots against tyranny.” In response to criticism, he later said he “did not condone or support the violence and lawlessness that took place.”
Randy Voepel did not return calls for comment. How close he was to the suspect is unclear.
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.
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.
Allen declined to answer questions related to the 2021 bomb threat after Wednesday’s court hearing.
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 customer of Club Q Who was shot said the club’s reputation made him a target. In a video statement, Ed Sanders said he was considering what he would do in 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 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.”
Authorities said Aldrich was using a long rifle and 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.
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, Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles, and news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed.