COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — A judge on Thursday unsealed a bomb threat case that showed the suspect in the Colorado gay nightclub shooting threatened to become the “next mass killer” more than a year before the attack that killed five people.
Anderson Lee Aldrich’s statements in the 2021 case that was later dropped have raised questions about why authorities did not seek to seize the suspect’s guns under Colorado’s “red flag” law.
It was unknown when the unsealed documents would be posted online.
Judge Robin Chittum said the “profound” public interest in the case outweighed Aldrich’s privacy rights. The judge added that scrutiny of judicial cases is “foundational to our system of government.”
“The only way for that scrutiny to occur is for this to be unsealed,” she said.
Aldrich, 22, was arrested in June 2021 on allegations of making a bomb threat that led to the evacuation of about 10 homes. Aldrich threatened to harm family members and boasted of having bomb-making materials, ammunition and multiple weapons, according to law enforcement documents.
Aldrich was booked into jail on suspicion of felony menacing and kidnapping. The case was later dropped, and officials have refused to speak about it, citing a state law that calls for dismissed cases to be sealed.
The judge’s order to release the records comes after news organizations, including The Associated Press, sought to unseal the documents, and two days after AP published portions of the sealed documents that were verified with a law enforcement official.
The papers detail how Aldrich told frightened grandparents about firearms and bomb-making material in the grandparents’ basement and vowed not to let them interfere with plans for Aldrich to be “the next mass killer” and “go out in a blaze.”
Aldrich then pointed a Glock handgun at the grandparents as they pleaded for their lives and said, “You guys die today … I’m loaded and ready.”
The documents also detailed how the grandparents fled for their lives and called 911 and how fear of a bomb blast prompted the evacuation of nearby homes.
Aldrich — who uses they/them pronouns and is nonbinary, according to their attorneys — holed up in their mother’s home in a standoff with SWAT teams and warned about having armor-piercing rounds and a determination to “go to the end.”
Eventually, a barefoot Aldrich came out with hands raised and surrendered.
The law enforcement official who confirmed the documents to the AP spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to talk about the papers.
Aldrich also was the subject of a tip received by the FBI a day before the bomb threat. Agents closed out the case just weeks later.
Under Colorado law, records are automatically sealed when a case is dropped and defendants are not prosecuted, as happened in Aldrich’s 2021 case. Once sealed, officials cannot acknowledge that the records exist, and the process to unseal the documents initially happens behind closed doors with no docket to follow and an unnamed judge.
“This is one of the strangest hearings I think I’ve ever had,” Chittum said. “I’m having a hearing about a case that none of us is to recognize.”
Chittum ruled despite objections from the suspect’s attorney and mother.
Public defender Joseph Archambault argued that while the public has an interest in the case, Aldrich’s right to a fair trial was paramount.
“This will make sure there is no presumption of innocence,” Archambault said.
During Thursday’s hearing, Aldrich sat at the defense table looking straight ahead or down at times and did not appear to show any reaction when their mother’s lawyer asked that the case remain sealed.
An attorney for Aldrich’s mother argued that unsealing the case would increase the likelihood that Laura Voepel would suffer harm harassment, intimidation or retaliation.
Aldrich was formally charged Tuesday with 305 criminal counts, including hate crimes and murder, in the Nov. 19 shooting at Club Q, a sanctuary for the LGBTQ community in mostly conservative Colorado Springs.
Investigators say Aldrich entered just before midnight with an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle and began shooting during a drag queen’s birthday celebration. Patrons stopped the killing by wrestling the suspect to the ground and beating Aldrich into submission, witnesses said.
Seventeen people suffered gunshot wounds but survived, authorities said.
Conviction on the murder charges would carry the harshest penalty — likely life in prison.
Associated Press writers Jesse Bedayn in Denver, Bernard Condon in New York and Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, contributed to this report. 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.