New Details Emerge About Colorado Shooting Suspect

The assailant accused of killing five people in an L.G.B.T.Q. nightclub made an initial court appearance, and identifies as nonbinary, lawyers say.

Enlarged photos of the five people killed in the shooting, adorned with flowers, are displayed outdoors on a row of easels. Rainbow-themed flags, bouquets and other mementos are arrayed on the grass nearby.
A memorial to the victims of the Club Q mass shooting, outside the club on Tuesday. Credit...Joanna Kulesza for The New York Times

COLORADO SPRINGS — The suspect accused of fatally shooting five people at an L.G.B.T.Q. nightclub before being tackled and pistol-whipped by bystanders sat slumped during a first court appearance on Wednesday, bruised, swollen and uttering slurred responses to a judge’s brief questions.

The suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, appeared on video from jail and was ordered held without bond. The accused shooter, who is being held on suspicion of first-degree murder and hate crimes, is expected to be formally charged at a hearing on Dec. 6.

New details emerged about the suspect as the small, close-knit L.G.B.T.Q. community in this conservative city hoisted a giant rainbow flag outside City Hall to grieve the attack at Club Q, which had been an oasis for many.

Public defenders representing the accused shooter disclosed in court papers made public late on Tuesday that their client identified as nonbinary and used they-them pronouns. One footnote in the filings said that “for the purposes of all formal filings,” their client “will be addressed as Mx. Aldrich.”

At a news conference outside the courthouse, District Attorney Michael J. Allen said the suspect’s gender identity would not affect his approach to the case or influence whether he files hate-crimes charges.

“I’m looking at evidence,” he said. “That’s what we look at when we make filing decisions.”

Prosecutors have not said what they believed the motive was for the attack.

Lawyers for the suspect did not respond to requests for comment.

Kristen Prata Browde, a co-chair of the National Trans Bar Association, said that a suspect’s gender identity should have no bearing on whether they can be prosecuted for a hate crime in the Club Q shooting.

“The motive for a crime isn’t dependent on whether you are or are not a member of a protected class,” Ms. Prata Browde said. “It legally has no significance, as far as whether the actions of this individual fit within the law regarding hate crimes.”

She and other legal experts said it would be best for the court and prosecutors to respect the suspect’s preferred pronouns and gender identity, and treat them “like any other defendant.”

Stan Garnett, the former district attorney in Boulder County, Colo., said he did not know of any legal rules that required Colorado prosecutors or a judge to honor a defendant’s pronouns or use “Mx.” but said “it would be very bad form to ignore a suspect’s self-identification.”

When the suspect was arrested, the police listed five potential counts of murder and five counts of what Colorado state law refers to as “bias-motivated” crimes, meaning that they were motivated at least in part by bias concerning a victim’s race, nationality, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. Such crimes are more widely known as hate crimes.

According to the police and witnesses, the attacker, clad in body armor, burst into the club just before midnight on Saturday and opened fire with a long gun, killing five people and injuring 18 others before being tackled by people inside the club.

One club patron, an Army veteran, grabbed a handgun from the assailant and pummeled them bloody, and told another person to kick the suspect in the face — interventions that the authorities said had saved lives.

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Club Q on Sunday. Credit...Daniel Brenner for The New York Times

In the wake of the attack, survivors and their families have focused on whether the suspect’s family or law-enforcement officials could have intervened before the attack, and whether Colorado’s red flag laws could have been used to seize weapons from the suspect.

Law enforcement officials have said the suspect was arrested last year outside Colorado Springs after the suspect’s mother reported being threatened by the suspect about a homemade bomb and other weapons. A news release from the El Paso County Sheriff about the 2021 incident described a frightening scene, with nearby houses evacuated, and said that a negotiation team was used to make an arrest.

The suspect was not prosecuted. Court records involving the threat have been sealed.

Interviews and public records revealed that the suspect had a troubled childhood marked by frequent moves. The suspect’s mother and father divorced when the suspect was less than 2 years old. Each parent had problems with substance abuse and a history of arrests.

The suspect was born Nicholas Brink, but legally changed their name to Anderson Lee Aldrich as a teenager in Bexar County, Texas, according to court documents. (The name change was reported earlier by The Washington Post.)

In 2016, the suspect’s grandparents, acting as guardians, referred to the suspect as male in court documents they filed in a Texas court to request a name change. “Minor wishes to protect himself + his future from any connections to birth father + his criminal history,” the grandparents wrote to the court. “Father has had no contact with minor for several years.”

By that time, the suspect’s father, Aaron Franklin Brink, had been arrested numerous times in California on charges related to drug use and erratic driving, court records show.

Mr. Brink said in an interview at his home in San Diego that his ex-wife, Laura Voepel, told him years ago that their child had changed their name because they were embarrassed by their father. Mr. Brink said Ms. Voepel later told him that their child had died, and that he believed that to be the case until several months ago, when Mr. Brink and the suspect reconnected by phone.

Mr. Brink said the phone call devolved into an argument, and at one point his child threatened to beat him up. Yet Mr. Brink said the conversation ended amicably.

Mr. Brink, who said he had worked as a pornographic actor and was now a mixed martial arts coach, described himself as religious and a conservative Republican who condemned gun violence. He acknowledged that he had voiced strong disapproval of gay people when the child was younger. Even so, in the interview Mr. Brink expressed sympathy for the families of the victims in the club shooting.

The suspect’s mother reported having a decades-long battle with mental illness and a difficult upbringing that seemed to stem from troubles at home, according to a mental evaluation filed in court documents in Texas.

She was charged in California with public intoxication in 2008, and with driving under the influence and possessing a controlled substance without a valid prescription in 2011. The mother was placed on five years’ probation in Texas after an episode in 2012 in which, after being admitted to the psychiatric ward of a San Antonio hospital, she set her bed on fire, according to court records.

Her father is a conservative Republican California legislator, Randy Voepel, who at the time of the 2012 incident was the mayor of Santee in San Diego County. Assemblyman Voepel declined to comment on his grandson’s arrest, according to a legislative aide.

In a psychiatric evaluation filed with the court, Ms. Voepel told the court-ordered psychologist that her troubles began at age 10 after her parents separated and she became “really isolated and neglected.”

Attempts to reach Ms. Voepel for comment were unsuccessful.

Court records indicated that the suspect had been living since childhood with their maternal grandparents, who listed the child as a dependent as long ago as 2008.

Kirsten Noyes contributed research.