CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Colorado Springs LGBTQ+ club mass killer gets life in prison

Jun 26, 2023, 10:36 AM | Updated: Jun 27, 2023, 7:46 am

a memorial for the victims of the club q shooting...

FILE - Noah Reich, left, and David Maldonado, the Los Angeles co-founders of Classroom of Compassion, set up a memorial near Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Nov. 22, 2022, with photographs of the five victims of a mass shooting at the gay nightclub. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — A suspect who killed five people at a Colorado Springs nightclub in 2022 was sentenced to life in prison for murder on Monday, after victims called the defendant a “monster” who hunted down LGBTQ+ patrons in a calculated attack.

Anderson Lee Aldrich pleaded guilty to five counts of murder and 46 counts of attempted murder – one for each person inside Club Q on the night of the shooting. Aldrich also pleaded no contest to two hate crimes, one a felony and the other a misdemeanor.

“This thing sitting in this court room is not a human, it is a monster,” said Jessica Fierro, who’s daughter’s boyfriend was killed that night. “The devil awaits with open arms.”

The guilty plea comes just seven months after the shooting and spares victim’s families and survivors a long and potentially painful trial.

People in the courtroom wiped away tears as the judge explained the charges and read out the names of the victims.

“You are targeting a group of people for their simple existence,” said Judge Michael McHenry.

“Like too many other people in our culture, you chose to find a power that day behind the trigger of a gun, your actions reflect the deepest malice of the human heart, and malice is almost always born of ignorance and fear,” the judge continued.

Relatives and friends of victims were able to give statements in court to remember their loved ones and survivors spoke about how their lives were forever altered just before midnight on Nov. 19 when the suspect walked into Club Q and indiscriminately fired an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle.

The father of a Club Q bartender said Daniel Aston had been in the prime of his life when he was shot and killed. “He was huge light in this world that was snuffed out by a heinous, evil and cowardly act,” Jeff Aston said. “I will never again hear him laugh at my dad jokes.”

Daniel Aston’s mother, Sabrina, was among those who said they would not forgive the crimes.

Another forgave Aldrich without excusing the crime.

“I forgive this individual, as they are a symbol of a broken system, of hate and vitriol pushed against us as a community,” said Wyatt Kent, Aston’s partner. “What brings joy to me is that this hurt individual will never be able to see the joy and the light that has been wrought into our community as an outcome.”

Aldrich’s body shook slightly as the victims and family members spoke. The defendant also looked down and glanced occasionally at a screen showing photos of the victims.

“I intentionally and after deliberation caused the death of each victim,” Aldrich told the judge.

The guilty plea follows a series of jailhouse phone calls from Aldrich to The Associated Press expressing remorse and the intention to face the consequences for the shooting.

Several survivors told the AP about the plea agreement after being approached about Aldrich’s comments to AP. They said prosecutors had notified them that Aldrich, who is nonbinary and uses they and them pronouns, would plead guilty to charges that would ensure a sentence of life behind bars.

Aldrich originally was charged with more than 300 state counts, including murder and hate crimes. The U.S. Justice Department is considering pursuing federal hate crime charges, according to a senior law enforcement official familiar with the matter who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing case.

The line to get through security early Monday snaked through the large plaza outside the courthouse as victims and others queued up to attend the hearing. One man wore a t-shirt saying “Loved Always & Never Forgotten.”

The attack at Club Q came over a year after Aldrich had been arrested for threatening their grandparents and vowing to become “the next mass killer.” In June 2021, Aldrich’s grandparents told authorities that they were warned not to stand in the way of a plan to stockpile guns, ammo, body armor and a homemade bomb. Aldrich was then arrested after a standoff with SWAT officers that was livestreamed on Facebook.

However, the charges against Aldrich were thrown out in July 2022 after Aldrich’s mother and grandparents, the victims in the case, refused to cooperate with prosecutors, evading efforts to serve them with subpoenas to testify, according to court documents unsealed after the shooting. Other relatives told a judge they feared Aldrich would hurt their grandparents if released, painting a picture of an isolated, violent person who did not have a job and was given $30,000 that was spent largely on the purchase of 3D printers to make guns, the records showed.

Aldrich was released from jail then and authorities kept two guns — a ghost gun pistol and an MM15 rifle — seized in the arrest. But there was nothing to stop Aldrich from legally purchasing more firearms, raising questions immediately after the shooting about whether authorities should have sought a red flag order to prevent such purchases.

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office said it would not have been able to seek a court order stopping Aldrich from buying or possessing guns because the 2021 arrest record was sealed after the charges were dropped. There was no new evidence that they could use to prove that Aldrich posed a threat “in the near future,” the sheriff’s office said.

Investigators later revealed that the two guns Aldrich had during the Club Q attack — the rifle and a handgun — appeared to be ghost guns, or firearms without serial numbers that are homemade and do not require an owner to pass a background check.

Aldrich told AP in one of the interviews from jail they were on a “very large plethora of drugs” and abusing steroids at the time of the attack. But they did not answer directly regarding the hate crimes charges. When asked whether the attack was motivated by hate, Aldrich said only that was “completely off base.” Aldrich’s attorneys, who have not disputed Aldrich’s role in the shooting, have also pushed back on hate being the reason.

Some survivors who listened to the recorded phone calls saw Aldrich’s comments as an attempt to avoid the death penalty which still exists in the federal system. Colorado abolished it in 2020 and life without prison is now the mandated sentence for first-degree murder in the state. They objected to Aldrich’s unwillingness to discuss a motive and their use of passive, general language like “I just can’t believe what happened” and “I wish I could turn back time.”

___

This story has been updated to correct the defendant’s pronoun in the headline. It is them, not him.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Crime, Police + Courts

NEW YORK (AP) — The owner of a New York City day care center and a tenant living in the building ...

Mark Jones

Bicyclist killed after being struck by touring bus in Wasatch County

A bicyclist was killed Friday after being struck by a touring bus on Pine Canyon Road in Wasatch County.

36 minutes ago

This item, a fake skull, putty, nine-volt battery and a sensor, caused baggage screening operations...

Mark Jones

Suspicious item paused baggage screening at SLCIA earlier this month

A suspicious item in checked luggage caused a two-hour delay in baggage screening operations on Sept. 18 at Salt Lake City International Airport.

1 hour ago

Image of the U.S. Supreme Court, June 8, 2020, in Washington.The Supreme Court agreed Friday to dec...

MARK SHERMAN Associated Press

The Supreme Court will decide if state laws limiting social media platforms violate the Constitution

The court's announcement Friday comes as the justices grapple with how laws written at the dawn of the digital age, or earlier, apply online.

9 hours ago

AG sean reyes...

Bridger Beal-Cvetko, KSL.com

Sean Reyes ‘deeply saddened’ by Tim Ballard allegations, won’t endorse in Senate race

Reyes is a longtime friend of Ballard and accompanied the anti-sex trafficking activist on a rescue mission in Colombia in 2014.

14 hours ago

the crash in eagle mountain...

Kate Davis

Suspect in Eagle Mountain road-rage crash that killed two due in court

Peterson Drew Matheson, the suspect in an Eagle Mountain road-rage accident will be court Friday morning. Two were killed in the accident.

14 hours ago

SALT LAKE CITY — An attorney representing a group of former employees and contractors of Operatio...

Lindsay Aerts, Larry D. Curtis

‘These allegations are true,’ say former OUR employees about Tim Ballard

An attorney representing a group wanting to make a public statement about Operation Underground Railroad read a statement Thursday morning.

1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

Human hand holding a protest banner stop vaping message over a crowded street background....

Prosperous Utah Communities

Utah’s Battle to Protect Youth from Vaping Epidemic Faces New Threat as Proposed Rule Threatens Progress

Utah's strict standards of nicotine levels in vaping products are at risk, increasing health hazards associated with use. Read more about how you can advocate for a better future for Utah's youth.

Aerial photo of Bear Lake shoreline with canopies and people camped out on the beach...

Visit Bear Lake

Last-Minute Summer Vacation Planning? Check Out Bear Lake!

Bear Lake is the perfect getaway if you are last-minute summer vacation planning. Enjoy activities with your whole family at this iconic lake.

close up of rose marvel saliva blooms in purple...

Shannon Cavalero

Drought Tolerant Perennials for Utah

The best drought tolerant plants for Utah can handle high elevations, alkaline soils, excessive exposure to wind, and use of secondary water.

Colorado Springs LGBTQ+ club mass killer gets life in prison