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Suspect in killing of 5 at Colorado club held without bail

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The alleged shooter faces possible hate crime charges in the fatal shooting of five people at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs was ordered to be held without bail during a first trial Wednesday when the suspect was slumped in a chair.

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, was seen with visible injuries to their face and head in a short video appearance from prison. Aldrich appeared to need urging from defense attorneys and responded unclearly when asked by El Paso County Court Judge Charlotte Ankeny to name their names.

The suspect was beaten into submission by patrons during Saturday night’s taping at Club Q and discharged from the hospital on Tuesday. The motive for the shooting is still under investigation, but authorities said Aldrich may face charges of murder and hate crimes.

Hate crime allegations would require proof that the shooter was motivated by bias, such as against the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the victims. The charges against Aldrich are preliminary and prosecutors have not yet filed formal charges.

Defense attorneys said late Tuesday that the suspect is non-binary and court documents referred to the suspect as “Mx. Aldrich.” The lawyers’ footnotes claim that Aldrich is non-binary and uses she/them pronouns.

Prosecutor Michael Allen repeatedly referred to the defendant as “he” at a press conference after the hearing, saying that in his opinion the defendant’s gender status would not change the case. Allen said Aldrich was “physically competent” to press charges.

Ankeny has scheduled the next hearing for December 6.

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

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

Aldrich was known as Nicholas Franklin Brink until 2016. Weeks before turning 16, Aldrich successfully petitioned a Texas court for a name change, court records show. A petition for the name change was filed on behalf of Brink at the time by his legal guardians.

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

The suspect’s father, Aaron Brink, is a mixed martial arts fighter and porn performer with an extensive criminal history, including assault convictions against the alleged shooter’s mother, Laura Voepel, both before and after the suspect’s birth. . A felony conviction in California in 2002 resulted in a protection order that initially prohibited 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 the CBS affiliate in San Diego, KFMB-TV, that he was shocked to learn about Aldrich’s alleged involvement. He said his first reaction was to wonder why Aldrich was in a gay bar. Brink said he hadn’t had much contact with his child, but taught her to fight, “praising” Aldrich for violent behavior at a young age. He added that he is sorry for letting Aldrich down. Brink said, “There’s no excuse for killing people. If you kill people, something is wrong. It’s not the answer.”

One of the defendant’s grandfathers is Randy Voepel, an extroverted lawmaker 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, had a mixed voting record on LGBTQ bills. He compared the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol to the Revolutionary War, calling it the “first shots fired against tyranny.” In response to criticism, he later said that he “did not approve or support the violence and lawlessness that took place”.

Randy Voepel did not call back to ask for comment. It is unclear how close he was to the suspect.

Aldrich’s request for a name change came months after Aldrich was apparently the target of online bullying. A June 2015 website post attacking a teen named Nick Brink suggests they may have been bullied in high school. The post contained pictures similar to those of the shooting suspect and ridiculed Brink for their weight, lack of money and what it said was an interest in Chinese cartoons.

In addition, a YouTube account was opened in Brink’s name with an animation titled “Asian Homosexual Being Harassed”.

Local and federal authorities have declined to say why hate crime charges were being considered. District Attorney Michael Allen noted that the charges of murder carry the most severe penalty – life in prison – while felonies of bias are eligible for probation. He also said it was important to show the community that bias-motivated crimes will not be tolerated.

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

Authorities at the time said no explosives had been found, but gun control advocates have questioned why police did not use Colorado’s “red flag” laws to seize the guns Aldrich is said to have.

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

The attack took place at a nightclub known as a haven for the LGBTQ community in this mostly conservative city of about 480,000, about 70 miles south of Denver.

An old Club Q patron who was shot down said the club’s reputation made it a target. In a video statement, Ed Sanders said he was contemplating what he would do in the event of a mass shooting following the 2016 massacre of 49 people at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida..

“I think this incident underscores the need to love LGBT people,” says Sanders, 63. “I want to be resilient. I am a survivor. I will not let some sick person take me out.”

Authorities said Aldrich used a long gun and was restrained by two clubbers, including Richard Fierro, who told reporters that he took a gun from Aldrich, hit them with it, and pinned them down with help from another person until police arrived.

The victims were Raymond Green Vance, 22, a Colorado Springs resident who was saving money to get his own apartment; Ashley Paugh, 35, a mother who helped find homes for foster children; Daniel Aston, 28, who had worked at the club as a bartender and entertainer; Kelly Loving, 40, whose sister described her as “caring and sweet”; and Derrick Rump, 38, another club bartender known for his humor.

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Bedayn is a member of the Corps of The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues.

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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 contributed from New York.

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