Shooting suspect in killing of five people at gay nightclub held without bail

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The alleged shooter facing possible hate crime charges in the fatal shooting of five people at a Colorado Springs gay nightclub has been ordered to be held without bail.

In an initial court appearance on Wednesday the suspect sat slumped over in a chair with injuries visible on their face and head.

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, who identifies as non-binary, appeared to need prompting by defence lawyers during a brief video appearance from jail.

Aldrich offered a slurred response when asked to state their name by El Paso County Court Judge Charlotte Ankeny.

Photographs of victims of a weekend mass shooting at a nearby gay nightclub are on display at a memorial on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, in Colorado Springs, Colo
Photographs of victims of the mass shooting at Club Q (David Zalubowski/AP)

The motive in the shooting was still under investigation, but authorities said Aldrich 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.

Defence lawyers said late on Tuesday that the suspect is nonbinary and court filings referred to the suspect as “Mx Aldrich”. The lawyers’ footnotes assert that Aldrich is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns.

In this image from El Paso County District Court video, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, centre, could be seen slumped over in a chair in a brief video appearance from jail in Colorado Springs, Colo., Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022
Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, centre, could be seen slumped over in a chair in a brief video appearance from jail in Colorado Springs on Wednesday (El Paso County District Court/AP)

Ms Ankeny set the next hearing for December 6.

Of the 17 people injured by gunshots in the attack, 11 remained in hospital as of late Wednesday, officials said.

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.

People comfort each other
Five people were killed in the attack (David Zalubowski/AP)

Weeks before turning 16, Aldrich successfully petitioned a Texas court for a name change, court records show.

A petition for the name change was submitted on Brink’s behalf by his legal guardians at the time.

The suspect’s father, Aaron Brink, 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 misdemeanour battery conviction in California resulted in a protective order that initially barred Aaron Brink from contacting the suspect or Ms Voepel except through an lawyer, but was later modified to allow monitored visits with the child.

Aaron Brink told the San Diego CBS affiliate, KFMB-TV, that he was shocked to learn about Aldrich’s alleged involvement, adding his first reaction was to question why Aldrich was at a gay bar.

Mr Brink said he had not had much contact with his child but had taught them to fight, “praising” Aldrich for violent behaviour at an early age.

He added that he was sorry he let Aldrich down, saying: “There’s no excuse for going and killing people. If you’re killing people, there’s something wrong. It’s not the answer”.

Aldrich was arrested last year after their mother reported her child threatened her with a homemade bomb and other weapons.

Investigation at Club Q
Investigators continue to work at Club Q (AP)

Authorities at the time said no explosives were found, but gun control advocates have asked why police did not use Colorado’s “red flag” laws to seize the weapons Aldrich’s mother said her child possessed.

The weekend assault took place at a nightclub known as a sanctuary for the LGBTQ community in a mostly conservative city of about 480,000, roughly 70 miles south of Denver.

The attack 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.

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