“I have to take my responsibilities”

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The suspect in a mass shooting at a Colorado Springs gay nightclub is expected to enter a plea deal on murder and hate charges that would secure at least a life sentence for the attack that killed five people and injured 17, several survivors told The Associated Press.

News of a possible judicial resolution to last year’s Club Q massacre follows a series of prison phone calls from the suspect to the AP expressing remorse and intent to face the consequences during the next hearing scheduled for this month.

“I have to take responsibility for what happened,” Anderson Lee Aldrich, 23, said in his first public comments on the case.

Federal and state authorities and defense attorneys declined to comment on a possible plea deal. But Colorado law requires victims to be told about such agreements, and several people who lost loved ones or were injured in the attack told the AP that state prosecutors let them know. in advance that Aldrich would plead guilty to charges that would warrant the state’s maximum sentence. of life behind bars.

Prosecutors also recently asked survivors to prepare for the June 26 hearing by writing victim impact statements and preparing emotionally for the possible release of surveillance video of the Club Q attack.

“Someone is gone who can never be brought back through the justice system,” said Wyatt Kent, who was celebrating his 23rd birthday at Club Q when Aldrich opened fire, killing Kent’s partner Daniel Aston, who was working behind the bar. “We are all still missing a lot, a partner, a son, a daughter, a best friend.”

Jonathan Pullen, the suspect’s step-grandfather who plans to watch the next hearing live, said Aldrich “needs to realize what happened that terrible night. It’s really starting to dawn on him.

Aldrich faces more than 300 charges, including murder and hate crimes. And the U.S. Justice Department is considering bringing federal hate crime charges, according to a senior law enforcement official familiar with the case who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity to discuss the incident. case in progress. It is unclear whether the anticipated prosecution resolution will also resolve the ongoing FBI investigation.

Some survivors who listened to the suspect’s taped comments to the AP blasted them as a calculated attempt to avoid the federal death penalty, noting that they stopped short of discussing a motive, put much blame it on the drugs and called the crime passive generalities such as “I just can’t believe what happened” and “I wish I could turn back time.” Such language, they said, belied by maps, diagrams, online rants and other evidence that showed months of conspiracy and premeditation.

“Nobody has any sympathy for him,” said Michael Anderson, who was a bartender at Club Q when the shooting broke out and ducked away as several customers were gunned down around him. “This community has to live with what happened, with collective trauma, with PTSD, trying to mourn the loss of our friends, to move past the emotional wounds and to move past what we heard, saw and felt. “

Terror erupted just before midnight on November 19 when the suspect entered Club Q, a longtime sanctuary for the LGBTQ community in this predominantly conservative city of 480,000, and fired an indiscriminate shot from a semi-automatic rifle AR-15 type. Disbelief gave way to screams and confusion as the music continued to play. Partygoers dove onto a bloody dance floor for cover. The friends frantically tried to protect each other and covered the wounds with towels.

The killing only stopped after a Navy non-commissioned officer grabbed the barrel of the suspect’s rifle, burning his hand because it was so hot. An army veteran joined in to help subdue and beat Aldrich until police arrived, discovering that the shooter had emptied a high-capacity magazine and was armed with several more.

Aldrich, who since their arrest has identified as non-binary and uses the pronouns them and them, is said to have visited Club Q at least six times in the years leading up to the attack. District Attorney Michael Allen told a judge that the suspect’s mother made Aldrich go to the club “against his will and kind of forced this culture on him.”

Allen also said the suspect administered a website that posted a shooting practice video of a “neo-Nazi white supremacist.” Friends of the online game said Aldrich expressed his hatred towards the police, LGBTQ people and minorities and used anti-black and anti-gay slurs. And a police detective testified that Aldrich posted a message online with a photo of a trained scope at a gay pride parade.

Defense attorneys in previous hearings did not dispute Aldrich’s role in the shooting, but pushed back against claims he was motivated by hate, arguing the suspect was drugged with cocaine and drugs the night of the shooting.

“I don’t know if it’s public knowledge, but I was on a very large plethora of drugs,” Aldrich told the AP. “I had been up for days. I abused steroids. … I was finally able to get rid of this shit I was on.

Aldrich did not respond directly when asked if the attack was motivated by hate, saying only that it was “completely irrelevant.”

Even a former friend of Aldrich’s found their remarks dishonest. “I’m really glad he’s trying to take responsibility, but it’s like the ‘why’ is being swept under the rug,” said Xavier Kraus, who lived across the street from Aldrich in an apartment complex in Colorado Springs.

The AP sent Aldrich a handwritten letter several months ago asking them to discuss a 2021 kidnapping arrest following a standoff with a SWAT team, a lawsuit that had been dismissed and sealed despite video evidence of Aldrich’s crimes. In this case, just months before the Club Q shooting, they threatened to become “the next mass killer” and stockpiled guns, ammunition, body armor and a pipe bomb. The incident was streamed live on Facebook and prompted the evacuation of 10 nearby homes when authorities discovered a bathtub containing more than 100 pounds of explosive materials.

The alleged shooter, who was living with their grandparents at the time and was upset about their plans to move to Florida, threatened to kill the couple and “get out into a fire”, authorities said. “You die today and I’m taking you with me,” they quoted the suspect as saying. “I’m loaded and ready.”

The charges were dismissed even after relatives wrote to a judge warning that Aldrich was “certain” to commit murder if released. District Attorney Allen, facing heavy criticism, later blamed the dismissal of the case on Aldrich’s family members refusing to cooperate and repeatedly avoiding subpoenas outside of the state. State.

In response to AP’s letter, Aldrich first phoned a reporter in March and asked to be paid for an interview, a request that was denied. They recalled late last month, days after prosecutors wrote in a court filing that there was “near unanimous sentiment” among victims for “the earliest determination of the issues in the case.” “.

In a series of six calls, each limited by an automated jail phone system to 15 minutes, the suspect said: “Nothing will ever bring their loved ones back. People are going to have to live with injuries that cannot be repaired.”

When asked why it happened, they replied, “I don’t know. That’s why I think it’s so hard to understand that it happened. … Either I will be sentenced to death by the federal government, or I will go to prison for life, it is obvious.

While the AP would not normally provide a platform to someone suspected of committing such a crime, the editors judged that the suspect’s stated intent to accept responsibility and expression of remorse was of interest and should be reported.

Former Club Q bartender Anderson was among survivors who told prosecutors they wanted a speedy resolution to the criminal case.

“My fear is that if it takes years, it impedes processing, prosecution and the search for peace beyond this case,” he said. “I would like this to end as quickly as possible with the guarantee that justice is done.”


AP Writer Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this report. Contact AP’s global investigative team at Investigative@ap.org.

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