Victims have described the Colorado Springs mass shooter as a “monster” who specifically targeted LGBTQ+ individuals in a premeditated attack that claimed the lives of five people. Anderson Lee Aldrich, the suspect, pleaded guilty on Monday to multiple charges, including five counts of murder and 46 counts of attempted murder. He also pleaded no contest to two hate crimes, one classified as a felony and the other as a misdemeanor.
During the court proceedings, emotions ran high as victims’ family members and survivors shared their powerful statements. Jessica Fierro, whose daughter’s boyfriend was among those killed, stated,
“This thing sitting in this courtroom is not a human, it is a monster. The devil awaits with open arms.”
By entering a guilty plea just seven months after the tragic shooting, Aldrich spared the victims’ families and survivors the ordeal of a lengthy and potentially painful trial. As Judge Michael McHenry explained the charges and read out the names of the victims, tears were shed in the courtroom.
Jeff Aston, the father of Daniel Aston, a bartender at Club Q who was shot and killed, expressed the profound loss caused by the senseless act of violence.
“He was a huge light in this world that was snuffed out by a heinous, evil, and cowardly act,” Jeff Aston lamented. “I will never again hear him laugh at my dad jokes.”
Sabrina Aston, Daniel’s mother, was among those who declared that they would not forgive the crimes committed by Aldrich. However, another person chose a different path, forgiving Aldrich without excusing his actions. Wyatt Kent, Daniel Aston’s partner, explained, “I forgive this individual, as they are a symbol of a broken system, of hate and vitriol pushed against us as a community. 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.”
Throughout the victims’ statements, Aldrich mostly kept his gaze down, occasionally glancing at a screen displaying photos of the victims. When it was his turn to speak, he admitted, “I intentionally and after deliberation caused the death of each victim,” addressing the judge with his admission of guilt.
Following a series of jailhouse phone calls in which Anderson Lee Aldrich expressed remorse and his willingness to accept the consequences for the Colorado Springs shooting, the suspect has now entered a guilty plea. Survivors, who were approached by The Associated Press, revealed that prosecutors had informed them of Aldrich’s intention to plead guilty to charges that would result in a life sentence.
Some charges against Anderson Lee Aldrich were dropped
Initially facing over 300 state charges, including murder and hate crimes, there is also a possibility that the U.S. Justice Department may pursue federal hate crime charges, as disclosed by a senior law enforcement official speaking anonymously to the AP.
The tragic attack at Club Q occurred more than a year after Aldrich’s arrest for threatening their grandparents and proclaiming their desire to become “the next mass killer.” However, the charges in that case were ultimately dropped.
During Monday’s hearing, family members of the victims and survivors shared the profound impact that the terrifying incident had on their lives. The attack unfolded just before midnight on November 19 when the suspect entered Club Q and indiscriminately opened fire with an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle.
Ahead of the hearing, a long line of people, including victims and their loved ones, gathered outside the courthouse, waiting to pass through security. Among them was an individual wearing a t-shirt bearing the words “Loved Always & Never Forgotten” in memory of Daniel Davis Aston, a 28-year-old bartender and entertainer at Club Q who tragically lost his life in the shooting.
Early signs of the troubles ahead with Anderson Lee Aldrich
Aldrich’s plans for violent attacks were hinted at least a year prior to the assault at Club Q. In June 2021, Aldrich’s grandparents reported to authorities that they had been warned not to interfere with a plan involving the accumulation of firearms, ammunition, body armor, and a homemade bomb. Following a standoff with SWAT officers that was livestreamed on Facebook, Aldrich was arrested.
However, the charges against Aldrich were dismissed in July 2022. Court documents unsealed after the shooting revealed that Aldrich’s mother and grandparents, who were the victims in the case, refused to cooperate with prosecutors and evaded attempts to serve them subpoenas to testify. Other relatives expressed concerns to the judge that releasing Aldrich would endanger their grandparents, painting a picture of an isolated and violent individual who was unemployed and had received $30,000, most of which was spent on the purchase of 3D printers to make guns.
After being released from jail, Aldrich had two firearms seized during the previous arrest: a ghost gun pistol and an MM15 rifle. However, there were no legal barriers to prevent Aldrich from purchasing additional firearms, raising questions about whether authorities should have pursued a red flag order to prevent such acquisitions.
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office stated that it could not seek a court order to prevent Aldrich from buying or possessing guns because the arrest record from 2021 had been sealed after the charges were dropped. According to the sheriff’s office, there was no new evidence available to demonstrate that Aldrich posed an imminent threat.
Subsequent investigations revealed that the rifle and handgun used by Aldrich during the Club Q attack appeared to be ghost guns—homemade firearms without serial numbers that do not require a background check for ownership.
Motives of Anderson Lee Aldrich are disputed
During jailhouse interviews with the AP, Aldrich mentioned being under the influence of drugs and abusing steroids at the time of the attack but did not directly address the hate crime charges. When asked about whether the attack was motivated by hate, Aldrich responded by saying that such claims were “completely off base.” Aldrich’s attorneys, while not disputing their client’s involvement in the shooting, have also contested the notion of hate as the motive.
Some survivors who listened to the recorded phone calls interpreted Aldrich’s comments as an attempt to avoid the death penalty, which still applies at the federal level. Colorado abolished the death penalty in 2020, and life without parole is now the mandated sentence for first-degree murder in the state.
Survivors objected to Aldrich’s refusal to discuss motives and their use of passive and vague language, such as expressing disbelief and wishing to turn back time.