Victims confront Colorado Springs gay nightclub killer, calling him a monster and a coward

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — One by one, nearly two dozen victims showed up in a courtroom to confront the person who pleaded guilty to murdering five people and injuring 17 others in a an attack last year on a nightclub that served as a sanctuary for the LGBTQ+ community in Colorado Springs.

Some were crying, others seething with anger. They called him a coward, a monster, a terrorist.

Family and friends of the deceased and survivors who witnessed Anderson Lee Aldrich wreaking havoc at Club Q a week before Thanksgiving assured at Monday’s emotional hearing that Aldrich would not begin a life sentence without face the truth of the many ruined or unalterably changed lives.

“This monster next to me decided to come into my job and our community safe space and start stalking us like our lives had no meaning,” said Michael Anderson, who was bartending that night. . “He broke this community into pieces that may never be repaired.”

Aldrich pleaded guilty in state court to five counts of murder and 46 counts of attempted murder — one for each person at Club Q during the attack. Aldrich also pleaded no contest to two hate crimes.

Through hours of heartbreaking testimonies, survivors and loved ones of the dead spoke of the recurring trauma they experienced and how it disrupted their work and emotional well-being. One expressed forgiveness for Aldrich while another, a woman whose daughter’s boyfriend was killed, told Aldrich, “The devil is waiting with open arms.”

Many of those who spoke said they wish Colorado still had the death penalty so it could be used against Aldrich. Several lamented the gun violence that has become so widespread in the United States

Richard Fierro, a military veteran who joined others in stopping Aldrich’s shooting last November at Club Q nightclub, watched Aldrich as he spoke, his voice rising in palpable anger.

“I want this terrorist to have visions of his terror to haunt him for the rest of your life,” said Fierro, whose daughter’s boyfriend was killed that night.

Drea Norman recalled the loud noises heard that night, the smell of gunpowder filling the club and the muzzle flashes that continued. Crawling on all fours, Norman ran into Raymond Greene Vance, already dejected and pulseless, then hid in a freezer.

When the shooting stopped, Norman walked around Vance and found bartender Derek Rump fatally shot on the patio. Then Norman heard screams – Fierro calling for help to restrain Aldrich.

“I stood over him. My only thought was to throw my foot, stop it, and after what I imagine was ten strikes, I stopped,” Norman said.

People in the courtroom wiped away their tears as the judge explained the charges and read the names of the victims. Judge Michael McHenry also issued a stern rebuke of Aldrich’s actions, linking them to the company’s woes.

Aldrich entered the club just before midnight on November 19 and began firing an AR-15 type semi-automatic rifle indiscriminately, authorities said.

The guilty pleas came just seven months after the shooting and spared the victims’ families and survivors a long and potentially painful trial. More charges may be forthcoming: The FBI is working with the US Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division on a separate investigation into the attack, authorities confirmed.

Aldrich – who identifies as non-binary and uses the pronouns them and them – did not reveal a motive during Monday’s hearing and declined to address the court at sentencing.

The guilty plea follows a series of phone calls in jail from Aldrich to the Associated Press expressing remorse.

But District Attorney Michael Allen said Aldrich’s statements ring hollow. The prosecutor also dismissed the idea that Aldrich was non-binary, saying there was “no evidence” before the shooting to support this.

“I think it was a stilted effort to avoid any accusations of bias or hate,” Allen said. Allen said the defendant showed “extreme hatred” for the LGBtQ+ community and repeatedly called Aldrich a coward during a post-sentence press conference.

Outside the courtroom, Joshua Thurman said he feared someone would open fire again, whether it was at the grocery store, at the gas station or in his apartment. Thurman said he was in therapy and had alcohol issues.

“Even though I’m smiling and laughing, it hurts,” Thurman said. “It’s so hard not to want to take a bottle. Eight, nine o’clock in the morning.

Aldrich’s plea of ​​no contest on the hate crime charges effectively has the same impact as a conviction under Colorado law and does not absolve them of liability.

The killings have brought back memories of the 2016 massacre at gay Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which killed 49 people.

Aldrich was initially charged in state court with more than 300 counts, including murder and hate crimes. As authorities consider separate federal charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has asked that no documents in the case be released, Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said.

Stephanie Clark, Ashley Paugh’s sister, recalled that her 11-year-old niece hoped Paugh would be found safe after the shooting. The girl’s hope dissolved with cries of ‘no, no, no’ and ‘please do something’ after finding out her mother was gone.

“It’s something I would love for him to hear every day for the rest of his life,” Clark said.


Associated Press reporters Michael Tarm of Chicago and Matthew Brown of Denver contributed to this story.

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