Suspect in Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub shooting ran a neo-Nazi site, detective testifies
The 22-year-old accused of carrying out the deadly mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs in November ran a neo-Nazi website and used gay and racial slurs while gaming online, a police detective testified Wednesday.
Anderson Lee Aldrich used racial slurs while gaming, posted an image of a rifle scope trained on a gay pride parade and used a homophobic slur when referring to someone who was gay, Detective Rebecca Joines testified on the first day of a three-day trial to determine if there's enough evidence to warrant hate crime charges against Aldrich.
Aldrich, who wore an orange jail jumpsuit at the hearing and cried at times, identifies as nonbinary and uses the pronouns they and them. Joines said another witness told investigators that Aldrich said their mother, Laura Voepel, is nonbinary and forced them to go to LGBTQ clubs.
Joines said evidence also indicates that Aldrich was considering livestreaming the Nov. 19 attack at Club Q in which five people were killed and many others were injured.
Earlier Wednesday, another detective testified about the two men credited with stopping the attack.
Detective Ashton Gardner told the courtroom that surveillance video from inside the club showed that a Navy sailor, Petty Officer Second Class Thomas James, grabbed the red-hot barrel of Aldrich's AR-style rifle in an effort to wrench it away, and burned his hand. He said James and Aldrich then tumbled off a landing and began struggling over Aldrich's handgun, which Aldrich fired at least once, shooting James in the ribs.
After being shot, it is clear from the video that James was tiring, "but he continues to do what he can to subdue the suspect until police arrive," Gardner testified, noting that James later gave up his spot in an ambulance to someone else who was injured.
As James was grappling with Aldrich, Army veteran Richard Fierro rushed over to help, grabbing the rifle and throwing it, Gardner said. Fierro then used the handgun to beat Aldrich, telling officers, "I kept hitting him until you came."
Aldrich shook during the testimony about the people they shot, and cried while being led out of court for the lunch break.
James, who issued a statement days after the attack saying he "simply wanted to save the family that I found," didn't appear to be at the hearing. But Fierro, who sustained scrapes and bruises, sat in the back row. His daughter's boyfriend was killed in the attack.
After the gunfire ended and police arrived, Aldrich tried to pin the shooting on one of the patrons who subdued them while also claiming that the shooter was hiding, Officer Connor Wallick testified. Officers didn't believe it, and shortly afterward, confirmed that Aldrich was the shooter, he said.
Police found several high-capacity magazines at the scene, including a drum-style one that carries 60 rounds and was empty and others that carry 40 rounds, Gasper said. A state law passed after the 2012 Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting bans magazines that carry more than 15 rounds.
Unlike the other charges Aldrich faces, including murder and attempted murder, hate crime charges require prosecutors to present evidence of a motive — that Aldrich was driven by bias, either wholly or in part. That could include statements Aldrich made on social media or to other people, said Karen Steinhauser, a trial lawyer, former prosecutor and current University of Denver law professor who isn't affiliated with the case.
Coming into the hearing, prosecutors hadn't revealed anything about why they charged Aldrich with a hate crime.
Although Aldrich identifies as nonbinary, a member of a protected group such as the LGBTQ-plus community can still be charged with a hate crime for targeting peers. Hate crime laws are focused on the victims, not the perpetrator.
Prosecutors usually win preliminary hearings since the standard of proof is lower than at trial and the evidence must be viewed in a light most favorable to them. But defense lawyers sometimes still want to proceed with preliminary hearings because they offer the chance to question witnesses under oath, including investigators, and to learn more about the government's case than might be available in the reports that likely have already been turned over to them, Steinhauser said.
Surveillance video from that night showed Aldrich entering the club wearing a red T-shirt and tan ballistic vest while holding an AR-style rifle, with six magazines for the weapon and a pistol visible, said police Detective Jason Gasper. Soon after entering, Aldrich opened fire indiscriminately.
At Aldrich's apartment, investigators found gun-making materials, receipts for weapons and a drawing of the club. In Aldrich's mother's room, they found round gun range targets with holes in them, Gasper said. Aldrich's mother had taken them to the gun range.
During cross-examination, Gasper said investigators found "concerning writings." But he said they didn't find a manifesto or a plan to target members of the LGBTQ community either on Aldrich or at their home.
The night of the attack wasn't Aldrich's first visit to the club. An identification scanner showed that Aldrich had been there six times before the shooting, Joines testified. Aldrich's attorney also revealed during a recent hearing that Aldrich was at the club earlier on the night of the shooting for about 1 1/2 hours, but he didn't say why or elaborate.
Questions were raised early on about whether authorities should have sought a red flag order to stop Aldrich from buying guns after Aldrich was arrested in 2021 when they threatened their grandparents and vowed to become the "next mass killer," according to law enforcement documents.
Authorities said two guns seized from Aldrich in that case — a ghost gun pistol and an MM 15 rifle — weren't returned. That case was dropped, in part because prosecutors couldn't track down Aldrich's grandparents and mother to testify, so Aldrich had no legal restrictions on buying guns.
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