COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The alleged shooter may face hate crime charges in a deadly shooting shooting of five people at a Colorado Springs gay nightclub was ordered held without bail during his first court appearance Wednesday as the suspect sat slumped in a chair.
Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, could be seen with injuries to his face and head in a short video released from jail. Aldrich appeared to need prompting from the attorneys and gave a vague response when El Paso District Court Judge Charlotte Ankeny asked for their names.
He was a suspect beaten into submission by cartridges during Saturday evening shooting at the Q club and was discharged from the hospital on Tuesday. The motive for the shooting remains under investigation, but authorities said Aldrich faces murder and hate crime charges.
A hate crime charge requires proving that the shooter was motivated by bias, such as against the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the victims. The allegations against Aldrich are preliminary and prosecutors have not yet filed formal charges.
Attorneys said Tuesday night that the suspect is non-binary and has been identified in court filings as “Mc. Aldrich.” Attorneys’ footnotes state that Aldrich is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns.
Prosecutor Michael Allen repeatedly referred to the suspect as a “he” during a press briefing after the hearing and said the suspect’s gender status would make no difference in the case, in his opinion. Allen said Aldrich is “physically able” to withstand the charges.
Ankeny scheduled the next hearing for Dec. 6.
Of the 17 people shot in the attack, 11 remained hospitalized Wednesday night, officials said.
Aldrich’s name was changed more than six years ago when he was a teenager after filing a court petition in Texas to “protect himself” from his father, who had a criminal record that included domestic violence against Aldrich’s mother.
Until 2016, Aldrich was known as Nicholas Franklin Brink. Weeks before his 16th birthday, Aldrich successfully petitioned a Texas court to change his name, court records show. The petition to change the name was filed on behalf of Brink by his legal representatives at the time.
“The minor wants to protect himself and his future from any connection with his biological father and his criminal past. The father has not had contact with the minor for several years,” the petition, filed in Bexar County, Texas, states.
The suspect’s father, Aaron Brink, is a mixed martial artist and pornographic artist with an extensive criminal history, including convictions for battery on the alleged shooter’s mother, Laura Vopel, both before and after the suspect was born, state and federal court records show . . A 2002 misdemeanor conviction in California led to a protective order that initially barred Aaron Brink from contacting the suspect or Voepel except through an attorney, but was later modified to allow supervision of the child.
Aaron Brink told the CBS San Diego affiliate, KFMB-TV, that he was shocked to learn of Aldrich’s alleged involvement. He said his first reaction was to wonder why Aldrich was in a gay bar. Brink said he didn’t have much contact with his child, but taught them to fight by “praising” Aldrich for violent behavior at an early age. He added that he regrets letting Aldrich down. Brink said that “there is no justification for going out and killing people. If you kill people, then something is wrong. That’s not the answer.”
One of the suspect’s grandfathers is Randy Vopel, who is retiring as a member of the California State Assembly. The suspect’s mother, Laura Vopel, identified Randy Vopel as her father on her Facebook page in a 2020 post about his time in the state legislature.
Vopel, a Republican, has had mixed votes on LGBTQ bills. He compared the January 6 attack on the US Capitol to the Revolutionary War, calling it “the first shot against tyranny.” In response to the criticism, he later said he did not “justify or support the violence and lawlessness that took place.”
Randy Voppel did not return phone calls seeking comment. It is not yet clear how close he was to the suspect.
Aldrich’s request to change his name comes months after Aldrich was apparently the target of online bullying. A website post from June 2015 attacking a teenager named Nick Brink suggests they were bullied in high school. The post included photos similar to those of the shooting suspect and mocked Brink for their weight, lack of money and, it said, an interest in Chinese cartoons.
In addition, a YouTube account was opened in Brink’s name, which included an animation titled “Asian Homosexual Being Harassed.”
Local and federal authorities have declined to say why the hate crime charges are pending. District Attorney Michael Allen noted that the murder charges would carry the maximum penalty of life in prison, while the first-degree felony charge would be eligible for probation. He also said it’s important to show the public that bias-motivated crimes are unacceptable.
According to police, Aldrich was arrested last year after their mother reported that her child threatened her with a homemade bomb and other weapons. Doorbell video obtained by The Associated Press shows Aldrich arriving at their mother’s door with a large black bag on the day of the 2021 bomb threat, telling her the police are nearby and adding, “This is where I stand. Today I die.”
At the time, authorities said no explosives were found, but gun control advocates questioned why police didn’t use Colorado’s “red flag” law to seize the gun allegedly in Aldrich’s possession.
After a court hearing Wednesday, Allen declined to answer questions related to the 2021 bomb threat.
The attack happened over the weekend at a nightclub known as a haven for the LGBTQ community in this largely conservative city of about 480,000 people, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of Denver.
Long time patron of Club Q who was shot said the club’s reputation made him a target. In a video statement, Ed Sanders said he thought about what he would do in the event of a mass shooting after the 2016 massacre of 49 people. Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
“I think this incident highlights the fact that LGBT people need to be loved,” Sanders, 63, said. – I want to be stable. I survived. Some sick person won’t take me out.”
Authorities said Aldrich used a long rifle and was stopped by two clubgoers, including Richard Fierro, who told reporters he took Aldrich’s gun, hit him and held them down with the help of another man until police arrived.
The victims were Raymond Green Vance, 22, a Colorado Springs native who was saving money to get his own apartment; Ashley Pau, 35, a mother who helped find homes for foster children; Daniel Aston, 28, who 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.
Bedine is a member of The Associated Press Corporation/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover underreported issues.
Associated Press reporters Kathleen Ronine in Sacramento, Matthew Brown in Billings, MT, Amy Hanson in Helena, MT, Stephanie Dazio in Los Angeles, Adam Beam in Sacramento, Calif., Bernard Condon in New York, Jake Bleiberg in Dallas and a news reporter Rhonda Schaffner from New York contributed.