Gay bar shooting suspect faces murder, hate crime charges
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The man suspected of opening fire at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs was being held on murder and hate crime charges Monday, two days after the attack that killed five people and left 17 others with gunshot wounds.
Online court records showed that 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich faces five murder charges and five charges of committing a bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury in Saturday night’s attack at Club Q.
The suspect, who was subdued by club patrons and hit with one of his own weapon, remained hospitalized with unspecified injuries but is expected to make his first court appearance in the next couple of days, after doctors clear him to be released from the hospital.
The charges were preliminary, and prosecutors had not filed them in court. The hate crime charges would require proving that the gunman was motivated by bias, such as against the victims’ actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
Local and federal authorities during a Monday news briefing declined to answer questions about why hate crime charges are being considered, citing the ongoing investigation. District Attorney Michael Allen noted that the murder charges would carry the harshest penalty — life in prison — whereas bias crimes are eligible for probation.
“But it is important to let the community know that we do not tolerate bias motivated crimes in this community, that we support communities that have been maligned, harassed and intimidated and abused,” Allen said. “And that’s one way that we can do that, showing that we will put the money where our mouth is, essentially, and make sure that we try it that way.”
The attack was halted by two club patrons, including one who grabbed a handgun from Aldrich, hit him with it and pinned him down until police arrived minutes later, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said.
One of the men credited with stopping the attack told The Associated Press that he was at the club with his family, celebrating a birthday, when the attack happened.
Richard Fierro injured his hands, knees and ankle while stopping the shooter, according to a Facebook post Monday by the brewery that Fierro operates with his wife.
“I’m OK. There are others who aren’t,” Fierro said. His daughter hurt her knee as she ran for cover, and her longtime boyfriend, Raymond Green Vance, 22, was killed.
Vance’s family said in a statement that the Colorado Springs native was adored by his family and had recently gotten a job at FedEx, where he hoped to save enough money to get his own apartment.
The remaining victims were identified by authorities and family members as Ashley Paugh, 35, a mother who helped find homes for foster children; Daniel Aston, 28, who had worked at the club as a a bartender and entertainer; Kelly Loving, 40, whose sister described her as “caring and sweet”; and Derrick Rump, 38, another club bartender who was known for his quick wit and adopting his friends as his family.
Thomas James was identified by authorities as the other patron who intervened.
Court documents laying out what led to Aldrich’s arrest have been sealed at the request of prosecutors. Information on whether Aldrich had a lawyer was not immediately available.
A law enforcement official said the suspect used an AR-15-style semi-automatic weapon, and a handgun and additional ammunition magazines also were recovered. The official could not discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Thirteen victims remained hospitalized Monday, officials said. Five people have been treated and released.
Officials on Monday clarified that 18 people were hurt in the attack, not 25 as they said originally. Among them was one person whose injury was not a gunshot wound. Another victim had no visible injuries, they said.
Suthers, the mayor, said there was “reason to hope” all of the hospitalized victims would recover.
The assault quickly raisedquestions about why authorities did not seek to take Aldrich’s guns away from him in 2021, when he was arrested after his mother reported he threatened her with a homemade bomb and other weapons.
Though authorities at the time said no explosives were found, gun-control advocates have asked why police didn’t use Colorado’s “red flag” laws to seize the weapons his mother says he had. There’s no public record prosecutors ever moved forward with felony kidnapping and menacing charges against Aldrich.
The shooting rekindled memories of the 2016 massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people. Colorado has experienced several mass killings, including at Columbine High School in 1999, a movie theater in suburban Denver in 2012 and at a Boulder supermarket last year.
It was the sixth mass killing this month, and it came in a year when the nation was shaken by the deaths of 21 in a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
President Joe Biden talked to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis by phone and will continue to press Congress for an assault weapons ban “because thoughts and prayers are just not enough,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday.
The violence pierced the cozy confines of an entertainment venue long cherished as a safe spot for the LGBTQ community in the conservative-leaning city.
A makeshift memorial that sprang up in the hours after the attack continued to grow Monday, as a steady stream of mourners brought flowers and left messages in support of the LGBTQ community. The shooting site remained cordoned off.
“It’s a reminder that love and acceptance still have a long way to go,” Colorado Springs resident Mary Nikkel said at the site.
The club was one of few nightspots for the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs, residents said.
It hosted drag events have recently become a focus of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and protests as opponents, including politicians, have proposed banning children from them, falsely claiming that they are used to “groom” children.
The shooting came during Transgender Awareness Week and just at the start of Sunday’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, when events around the world are held to mourn and remember transgender people lost to violence.
Any time “these tragedies happen, you just think ‘When will it end and when will it stop?'” Biden said following the arrival of the official Christmas tree at the White House.
Colorado Springs, a city of about 480,000, is 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of Denver.
In 2015, three people were killed and eight wounded at a Planned Parenthood clinic in the city when a gunman targeted the clinic because it performed abortions.
Since 2006, there have been 523 mass killings and 2,727 deaths as of Nov. 19, according to The Associated Press/USA Today database on mass killings in the U.S.
Bedayn is a corps member for 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 report on undercovered issues.
Associated Press reporters Haven Daley in Colorado Springs, Colleen Slevin in Denver, Darlene Superville in Washington, Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Jeff McMillan in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, and news researcher Rhonda Shafner from New York contributed.
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