Shooter who killed 5 people at Colorado LGBTQ+ club charged with hate crimes in federal court
DENVER (AP) — The shooter who killed five people and endangered the lives of over 40 others at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs appeared in federal court Tuesday to face hate crime and firearm charges.
Anderson Aldrich, 23, pleaded not guilty to 50 hate charges and 24 firearm violations.
The charges come after Aldrich pleaded guilty last June in state court to five counts of murder and 46 counts of attempted murder — one for each person at Club Q during the attack on November 19, 2022.
Aldrich, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, also pleaded no contest to state charges for hate crimes under a plea agreement. The plea was an acknowledgment there was a good chance Aldrich would be convicted of those crimes without admitting guilt. The pleas carried the same weight as a conviction.
For Tuesday’s hearing, Aldrich appeared by video and was represented by David Kraut with the federal public defender’s office. Telephone and email messages left with Kraut’s office were not immediately returned.
Jeff Aston, whose son Daniel Aston was shot and killed in the attack, listened remotely to the hearing and said he was shocked to hear Aldrich plead not guilty.
“This was a hateful, stupid, heinous and cowardly act,” Aston said. “The closest thing to justice that I would like to see is that he has to suffer as much as the suffering he’s caused for so many victims and family members.”
Onstage, Daniel Aston was known for his knee-slides and described himself as the “Master of Silly Business.” After the shooting, his parents said he found Club Q to be a safe place to be a trans man and a drag queen.
The federal charges follow an FBI investigation into the shooting that was confirmed after Aldrich’s sentencing in state court. At the time, Colorado Springs area District Attorney Michael Allen said the threat of the death penalty in the federal system was a “big part of what motivated the defendant” to plead guilty to the state charges.
Aldrich declined to speak at the sentencing hearing in state court, and haven’t said why they hung out at the club, then went outside and returned dressed in body armor. Aldrich began firing an AR-15-style rifle as soon as they came back in.
Prosecutors say Aldrich had visited the club at least six times before that night and that Aldrich’s mother had forced them to go.
In a series of telephone calls from jail, Aldrich told The Associated Press they were on a “very large plethora of drugs” and abusing steroids at the time of the attack. When asked whether the attack was motivated by hate, Aldrich said that was “completely off base.”
The district attorney called those statements self-serving and characterised the assertion as ringing hollow. He said Aldrich’s claim of being nonbinary is part of an effort to avoid hate crime charges, saying there was no evidence of Aldrich identifying as nonbinary before the shooting.
During hearings in the state case in February, prosecutors said Aldrich administered a website that posted a “neo-Nazi white supremacist” shooting training video. A police detective also testified that online gaming friends said Aldrich expressed hatred for the police, LBGTQ+ people and minorities, and used racist and homophobic slurs. One said that Aldrich sent an online message with a photo of a rifle trained on a gay pride parade.
The attack shattered the sense of safety at Club Q, which served as a refuge for the city’s LGBTQ+ community. The shooting was stopped by a Navy officer who grabbed the barrel of the suspect’s rifle, burning his hand, and an Army veteran helped subdue and beat Aldrich until police arrived, authorities said.
The 2022 attack came more than a year after Aldrich was arrested for threatening their grandparents and vowing to become “the next mass killer ” while stockpiling weapons, body armor and bomb-making materials.
Those charges were eventually dismissed after Aldrich’s mother and grandparents refused to cooperate with prosecutors.
Last year Aldrich was moved to the Wyoming State Penitentiary due to safety concerns about the high-profile case, according to Alondra Gonzalez, spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Corrections.