COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The suspect accused of killing five and wounding 18 inside a Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub appeared in court for the first time Wednesday and was ordered held without bond while facing preliminary murder and hate-crime charges.
The five-minute, largely technical proceeding marked the first public appearance for the suspected shooter, who joined the court via video conference and spoke just four mumbled words — first name, last name, and an acknowledgment of constitutional rights — from a slumped, seated position. Another hearing was set for early December, when prosecutors say they will present formal charges against 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich.
The rampage on Saturday night shattered the fragile sense of security that Club Q, one of only two local gay bars, offered a community that has long faced discrimination in this bastion of American conservatism.
Aldrich is a 22-year-old with a tumultuous past, made opaque by a name change, sealed court records, and a scarce recent online footprint. The initial arrest charges included five counts of murder and five counts of committing a bias-motivated crime. Those are considered preliminary, and formal charges could differ, said Michael J. Allen, the district attorney who represents the area.
Police say that Aldrich was wielding a pistol and an assault-style rifle during the attack, which ended when the gunman was subdued by club patrons minutes after entering the establishment, firing a weapon. In the aftermath, the state’s Democratic politicians have reignited calls to strengthen Colorado’s gun laws.
The state has a red-flag law, which allows authorities to remove guns from a potentially dangerous person. Aldrich was arrested for an alleged bomb threat last year, charged with kidnapping and felony menacing, but, for reasons that remain unclear, was never prosecuted. It is not clear when or how Aldrich gained access to weapons or whether red-flag laws would have applied.
Not all jurisdictions enforce the red-flag law equally. In El Paso County, where the 2021 threat was reported, local leaders demonstrated their opposition to the law in 2019 by declaring it a ‘’Second Amendment preservation county.’’
Governor Jared Polis said in an interview this week with Colorado Public Radio that the red-flag law needs to be ‘’really evangelized more and talked about more,’’ citing ‘’very disparate records of utilizing it from different county sheriffs.’’
Leaders in Colorado, which has been home to a disproportionate share of America’s mass shootings, have recently called for strengthening federal gun control measures. Over the summer, Congress passed its most significant firearms restrictions in decades and President Biden signed them into law in July.
Senator John W. Hickenlooper said the new rules were ‘’not everything that we wanted, but steps that made a real difference.’’
Defense attorneys for Aldrich submitted several court filings in the case on Tuesday, including one saying that public defenders would, at least initially, be representing the suspect.
The Colorado State Public Defender’s office, which has a standing policy of not commenting on ongoing cases, has not responded to messages seeking comment.
In the filings, defense attorneys said the suspected attacker is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns.
The attorneys wrote that Aldrich had invoked the right to remain silent and suggested that would remain the case, writing that the suspect ‘’declines to speak to the prosecution and law enforcement on any topic.’’
Police and prosecutors have said they would not comment again on the case until next week, citing the ongoing judicial process, and have so far provided limited public information about the investigation. Prosecutors had the arrest records in the case placed under seal on Monday.
Among those records is the arrest affidavit, which can include a narrative of what law enforcement officials say happened during the shooting and potentially detail investigative steps taken so far.
In their filings, defense attorneys also asked to have access to the arrest affidavit, saying that it ‘’provides the basis for the arrest and detention’' of the shooting suspect and that they need it for providing effective counsel.
The filings saying that Aldrich identifies as nonbinary come as investigators have so far not publicly discussed any potential motive in the case. Officials also have not confirmed whether they will pursue hate crime charges in court.