Suspect in LGBTQ nightclub shooting sentenced to life in prison

Anderson Lee Aldrich has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a 2022 attack that killed five people in Colorado.

Flowers and a sign reading "love over hate" lay near a gay nightclub where a shooting occurred late Saturday night in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
A sign that reads 'Love over hate' sits at a memorial near the LGBTQ nightclub Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on November 20, 2022 [File: Geneva Heffernan/AP Photo]

The suspect in a mass shooting that killed five people at an LGBTQ nightclub has been sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole, in a United States courtroom.

Earlier on Monday, that suspect, 23-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich, pleaded guilty to five charges of murder and 46 counts of attempted murder, as part of a deal with prosecutors. Aldrich also pleaded no contest to two hate crimes.

The plea deal averted the possibility of a prolonged and emotional trial, coming nearly seven months after the November attack on the Club Q nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Adlrich, who stormed into Club Q wearing body armour and carrying several weapons, killed five people and injured nearly two dozen before being subdued by the “heroic” actions of patrons who wrestled him to the ground.

The attack brought attention to violence and increasingly hostile rhetoric across the US against members of the LGBTQ community, particularly transgender people. Club Q was known as a safe haven for the local LGBTQ population.

It also drew comparisons to the 2016 shooting at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where an attacker killed 49 people.

On Monday, people in the courtroom wiped away tears as Judge Michael McHenry explained the charges and read out the names of the Club Q victims.

Those killed were identified as Kelly Loving, 40; Daniel Aston, 28; Derrick Rump, 38; Ashley Paugh, 34; and Raymond Green Vance, 22.

“This thing sitting in this courtroom is not a human. It is a monster,” said Jessica Fierro, whose daughter’s boyfriend was killed. “The devil awaits with open arms.”

Jeff Aston described his son, Daniel Aston, as “kind-hearted, cheerful, sensitive in spirit and a gifted poet”.

“He had a contagious smile and burning blue eyes. … His mom and I will never be the same.”

Aldrich mostly looked down as the victims spoke, glancing sometimes at a screen showing photos of the victims. “I intentionally and after deliberation caused the death of each victim,” Aldrich told the judge.

According to a court filing, Aldrich identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns. However, there are no indications that Aldrich did so before the shooting, leading some to question whether Aldrich was being sincere or even taunting victims of the shooting.

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, the news agency reported.

Colorado does not sentence people to death, but federal authorities could still prosecute Aldrich on hate crime charges, which would bring the possibility of a death sentence.

Aldrich was previously known to law enforcement and had been arrested after allegedly threatening their grandparents and saying they would become the “next mass killer” the year before the shooting. Aldrich’s mother declined to testify and the case was dismissed.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies