By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) – The suspect accused of killing five people inside a Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub last month before patrons stopped the attack was formally charged on Tuesday with murder, hate crimes and assault.
The suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, appeared for a hearing in El Paso District Court where the charges against the 22-year-old were read. Aldrich has been held without bond since the Nov. 19 rampage at Club Q in Colorado Springs. In addition to the five people killed, 22 others suffered gunshot wounds or other injuries.
Aldrich, wearing yellow jail clothing and sitting at a table with defense attorneys, did not speak during the hearing. Aldrich did not enter a plea to the 305 charges that were filed.
Aldrich, who was clad in body armor, stormed the club armed with a rifle and handgun and opened fire indiscriminately, police and witnesses said.
Those killed were identified as Kelly Loving, 40; Daniel Aston, 28; Derrick Rump, 38; Ashley Paugh, 34; and Raymond Green Vance, 22.
Two men with military backgrounds subdued Aldrich until police arrived. A former Army major and decorated Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, Richard Fierro, told reporters that he disarmed Aldrich and pistol-whipped the suspect into submission.
In a booking photo and during an earlier court appearance, Aldrich appeared battered, apparently because of a beating by the bar’s patrons. On Tuesday, Aldrich’s face and neck did not appear to be bruised.
The other man credited with subduing Aldrich, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas James, said in a written statement that he just wanted “to save the family I found.”
Although authorities have not publicly identified a motive, the Colorado shooting was reminiscent of the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida, where a gunman killed 49 people before police shot him dead.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Aldrich faces a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Colorado no longer has a death-penalty statute. However, Aldrich could face a death sentence in federal court if prosecutors decide to bring charges under the U.S. code, which still has capital punishment on its books for certain crimes.
Lawyers assigned to represent Aldrich from the Colorado public defender’s office have said in court filings that their client identifies as nonbinary and prefers “they” and “them” pronouns.
District Attorney Michael Allen said after Aldrich’s initial court appearance on Nov. 23 that the suspect’s gender identity would have no bearing on how the case would be prosecuted. On Tuesday, Allen told reporters he thought evidence supported bias motivated charges.
“We’re not going to tolerate actions against community members based on their sexual identity,” Allen told reporters after the hearing. “Members of that community have been harassed, intimidated and abused for too long.”
Prosecutors were set to present evidence at the next hearing, scheduled for Feb. 22-24.
Aldrich was previously arrested in June 2021 in Colorado Springs after the suspect had threatened to detonate a bomb and harm their mother with multiple weapons, according to a news release from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Steve Gorman, Robert Birsel and Jonathan Oatis)