By Aaron Miller-
The suspected gunman accused of killing five people in a mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, last month has been formally charged with 305 counts, including charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, assault and bias-motivated crimes causing bodily injury.
Armed with a rifle and wearing body armour, the defendant opened fire in the Colorado Springs club last month, and only stopped after two men in Club Q were able to subdue the suspect until police arrived.
Anderson Lee Aldrich, wearing a bright yellow prison jumpsuit, appeared in court in person Tuesday, where Colorado’s Fourth Judicial District Attorney Michael Allen announced the charges, which range between Class 1 and Class 5 felonies.
Investigators said Aldrich entered Club Q, a sanctuary for the LGBTQ community in the mostly conservative city of Colorado Springs, just before midnight on Nov. 19 and began shooting during a drag queen’s birthday celebration. The killing stopped after patrons wrestled the suspect to the ground, beating Aldrich into submission, they said.
Aldrich had been held on hate crime charges, but prosecutors had said previously they weren’t sure if those counts would stick because they needed to assess if there was adequate evidence to show it was a bias motivated crime.
District Attorney Michael Allen had noted that murder charges would carry the harshest penalty — likely life in prison — but also said it was important to show the community that bias motivated crimes are not tolerated if there was evidence to support the charge.
Aldrich – whose attorneys say identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns – faces up to life in prison without parole if convicted on the first-degree murder charges, Allen said in a news conference after Tuesday’s hearing.
“When you file 305 counts in a case, that tells the public, this community, this state and this nation that we are taking this case as serious as we possibly can,” Allen told reporters, “meaning that we are going to prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law.”
The suspect allegedly entered Club Q late November 19 with an AR-style weapon and a handgun and opened fire, killing Daniel Aston, Raymond Green Vance, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh and Derrick Rump. At least 19 others were injured, police have said, most of whom suffered gunshot wounds.
The attack was halted by two patrons who took down and contained the suspect until police arrived at the club, which was seen as a safe space for the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs.
“We’re not going to tolerate actions against community members based on their sexual identity, those kinds of things,” Allen said of the charges of bias-motivated crime – elsewhere called a hate crime. “Members of that community have been harassed, intimidated and abused for too long. That’s not going to occur in the Fourth Judicial District.”
.Aldrich has been held up until now on preliminary charges, including five counts of first-degree murder and five counts of a bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury, per the El Paso County Court’s online docket. In a hearing on November 23, a judge ordered Aldrich to be held without bond.
The public defender’s office, which is representing Aldrich, has previously declined all requests for comment, citing office policy.
Ahead of an earlier hearing, Aldrich’s attorneys said the suspect identified as nonbinary and would be addressed as Mx. Aldrich – a distinction that Allen said would have “no impact” on his office’s prosecution of the case.
A neighbour of the accused shooter who said he sometimes played video games with Aldrich told CNN the suspect never mentioned they were nonbinary.
Aldrich is next due in court on February 22 for a preliminary hearing. After that, Aldrich would be expected to be arraigned, Allen said.