• Thu. Dec 1st, 2022

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The suspected shooter, who may face hate crime charges in the fatal shooting of five people at a Colorado Springs gay nightclub, was held without bail in a first court appearance on Wednesday when the suspect slumped on sat in a chair.

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, appeared in a brief video appearance from prison with visible injuries to his face and head. Aldrich appeared to be prompted by defense attorneys and gave a slurred response when asked by El Paso County Court Judge Charlotte Ankeny to provide her name.

The suspect was beaten into submission by guests during Saturday night’s shooting at Club Q and was discharged from hospital on Tuesday. The motive for the shooting is still under investigation, but authorities said Aldrich faces possible murder and hate crime charges.

Hate crime charges would have to prove that the shooter was motivated by prejudice, such as against the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The charges against Aldrich are preliminary and prosecutors have not yet filed any formal charges.

Defense attorneys said late Tuesday that the suspect was non-binary and identified in court documents as “Mx. Aldrich.” The attorneys’ footnotes claim that Aldrich is nonbinary and she/she uses pronouns.

Prosecutor Michael Allen repeatedly referred to the suspect as “he” during a press conference following the hearing and said that in his opinion the suspect’s gender status would not change the case. Allen said Aldrich was “physically able” to face charges.

Ankeny has scheduled the next hearing for December 6th.

Of 17 people injured by gunfire in the attack, 11 remained hospitalized late Wednesday, officials said.

Aldrich’s name was changed more than six years ago as a teenager after he filed a legal petition in Texas to “protect” himself from a father with a criminal history, including domestic violence against Aldrich’s mother.

Aldrich was known as Nicholas Franklin Brink until 2016. Weeks before he turned 16, Aldrich successfully petitioned a Texas court for a name change, court filings show. A name change request was made on behalf of Brink by his then legal guardians.

“Minor wants to protect himself and his future from any connection to his biological father and his criminal history. Father has not had contact with minors for several years,” reads the petition, filed in Bexar County, Texas.

The suspect’s father, Aaron Brink, is a mixed martial artist and porn actor with an extensive criminal history, including assault convictions against the suspect’s mother, Laura Voepel, both before and after the suspect’s birth, as reported from state and federal court records. A 2002 misdemeanor conviction in California resulted in a protective order that initially prevented Aaron Brink from contacting the suspect or Voepel except through an attorney, but was later amended to allow for supervised visits with the child.

Aaron Brink told San Diego-based CBS affiliate KFMB-TV that he was shocked to learn of Aldrich’s alleged involvement. He said his first reaction was to ask why Aldrich was in a gay bar. Brink said he didn’t have much contact with his child, but did teach them how to fight, and “praised” Aldrich for violent behavior from an early age. He added that he was sorry for letting Aldrich down. Brink said: “There is no excuse for killing people. If you kill people, something is wrong. That’s not the answer.”

One of the suspect’s grandfathers is Randy Voepel, an outgoing legislator in the California state assembly. The suspect’s mother, Laura Voepel, identified Randy Voepel as her father on her Facebook page in a 2020 post about his time in the state Legislature.

Voepel, a Republican, has had a mixed voting record on LGBTQ bills. He likened the January 6 attack on the US Capitol to the Revolutionary War, calling it the “first shots against tyranny.” In response to criticism, he later said he “did not condone or support the violence and lawlessness that took place.”

Randy Voepel did not return calls for comment. How close he was to the suspect is unclear.

Aldrich’s request for a name change came months after Aldrich was reportedly the target of online bullying. A June 2015 website post attacking a teenager named Nick Brink suggests he may have been bullied in high school. The post included photos resembling those of the suspect who was shooting and mocked Brink for her weight, lack of funds and interest in Chinese cartoons.

A YouTube account was also opened in Brink’s name, which featured an animation titled “Asian gay man being harassed.”

Local and federal authorities have declined to say why hate crime charges were being considered. District Attorney Michael Allen noted that the murder charge would carry the harshest sentence — life in prison — while crimes of prejudice carry probation. He also said it was important to show the community that crimes motivated by prejudice would not be tolerated.

Aldrich was arrested last year after her mother reported that her child threatened her with a homemade bomb and other weapons, police say. Ringing video obtained by The Associated Press shows Aldrich arriving at her mother’s door on the day of the 2021 bomb threat with a large black bag, telling her the police are nearby and adding: “Here I stand. Today I die.”

Authorities at the time said no explosives were found, but gun control advocates have questioned why police didn’t use Colorado’s “red flag” laws to seize the guns Aldrich allegedly owned.

Allen declined to answer questions related to the 2021 bomb threat after Wednesday’s court hearing.

The weekend’s attack took place at a nightclub known as a haven for the LGBTQ community in this mostly conservative city of about 480,000 people about 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of Denver.

A longtime Club Q supporter who was shot said the club’s reputation made him a target. In a video statement, Ed Sanders said he was considering what he would do in a mass shooting following the 2016 massacre of 49 people at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

“I think this incident underscores the fact that LGBT people need to be loved,” said Sanders, 63. “I want to be resilient. i am a survivor I will not be taken out by a sick person.”

Authorities said Aldrich was using a long rifle and was stopped by two club guests, including Richard Fierro, who told reporters he took a pistol from Aldrich, hit her with it and with the help of another person held her until police arrived.

The victims were Raymond Green Vance, 22, a native of Colorado Springs who was saving money to buy his own apartment; Ashley Paugh, 35, a mother who has helped find homes for foster children; Daniel Aston, 28, who had 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.

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Bedayn is a corps member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover undercover topics.

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Associated Press reporters Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, Amy Hanson in Helena, Montana, Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles, Adam Beam in Sacramento, California, Bernard Condon in New York, Jake Bleiberg in Dallas, and news researcher Rhonda Shafner of New York contributed.

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