The suspect accused of entering a Colorado gay nightclub clad in body armor and opening fire with an AR-15-style rifle, killing five people and wounding 17 others, was charged by prosecutors Tuesday with 305 criminal counts including hate crimes and murder. Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, sat upright in a chair during the hearing and appeared alert.
In an earlier court appearance just a few days after the shooting, the defendant’s head and face were covered with bruises and the defendant, who according to court papers filed by their attorney is nonbinary and uses the pronouns they/them, had to be prompted by attorneys to respond to questions from a judge.
Investigators said the defendant 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 the defendant into submission, they said.
The defendant 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.
Allen did not detail the charges in Tuesday’s hearing but said they included “many counts of bias motivated crimes.”
Judge Michael McHenry ordered the arrest warrant affidavit in the case to be unsealed on Wednesday, over the objections of the defendant’s attorney who said he was concerned about the defendant’s right to a fair trial due to publicity surrounding the case.
The defendant was arrested at the club by police. They have not entered a plea or spoken about the events.
According to witnesses, the defendant fired first at people gathered at the club’s bar before spraying bullets across the dance floor during the attack, which came on the eve of an annual day of remembrance for transgender people lost to violence.
More than a year before the shooting, the defendant was arrested on allegations of making a bomb threat that led to the evacuation of about 10 homes. The defendant threatened to harm their own family with a homemade bomb, ammunition and multiple weapons, authorities said at the time.
The defendant was booked into jail on suspicion of felony menacing and kidnapping, but the case was apparently later sealed and it’s unclear what became of the charges. There are no public indications that the case led to a conviction.
Ring doorbell video obtained by the AP shows the defendant arriving at their mother’s front door with a big black bag, telling her the police were nearby and adding, “This is where I stand. Today I die.”