Shooter Who Killed 5 People At LGBTQ+ Club Pleads Guilty To Federal Hate Crimes

The shooter who killed five people at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal hate crimes and gun violations.

Anderson Lee Aldrich, 24, entered into a deal with prosecutors to accept 74 federal charges for the November 2022 massacre at Club Q. Prosecutors decided not to pursue the death penalty in an agreement that was announced in January. Aldrich will now serve 55 concurrent life sentences and an additional 190 years of imprisonment.

U.S. District Judge Charlotte Sweeney, the first openly gay federal judge in Colorado, accepted this agreement at the end of the sentencing hearing.

Sweeney also noted that restitution will be required for the victims and will be determined at a later date.

“The admission that these were hate crimes is important to the government, and it’s important to the community of Club Q,” said federal prosecutor Alison Connaughty.

Connaughty added that Club Q, which had been open for 22 years prior to the shooting, was more than just a bar in Colorado Springs, a conservative city.

“It’s a special gathering place for anyone who needed community and anyone who needed that safe place,” she said. “We met people who said, ‘This venue saved my life, and I was able to feel normal again.’”

Last summer, Aldrich pleaded guilty to 50 charges at the state level and received more than 2,000 years in prison, one of the longest sentences in Colorado history. The shooter is currently serving the first of five consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Ashtin Gamblin, who was shot nine times at Club Q, spoke at today’s hearing and asserted that Aldrich should be sentenced to death, even if the punishment isn’t carried out. Gamblin remembered her friend Daniel Ashton, who was the first person killed in the massacre. “I am alive today because of him,” she said.

Just before midnight on Nov. 19, 2022, Aldrich wielded an assault weapon and opened fire on patrons of the popular LGBTQ+ nightclub, killing five people and injuring more than 19. The Department of Justice described the shooting as a “willful, deliberate, malicious and premeditated attack” motivated by Aldrich’s animus toward LGBTQ+ people.

During hearings in last year’s state case, prosecutors found that Aldrich ran a website that posted a “neo-Nazi white supremacist” shooting training video. A police detective separately testified that the shooter used homophobic and racist slurs while playing video games online and posted an image of a rifle scope pointed at a Pride parade.

Public defenders said that Aldrich is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, according to court documents. A close friend of Aldrich’s told NBC that he believes the shooter is “trolling” the courts and media in order to “make it as much of a show and a mockery and just confusing for everybody involved.”

Prosecutors said that Aldrich had visited Club Q at least six times before the shooting with evidence from their credit card statements, scans of their identification at the bar, and interviews with people who had met Aldrich there.

The shooter said that their mother had previously forced them to go to the LGBTQ club “against” their will and “sort of forced that culture” on them. An acquaintance told investigators that Aldrich said their mother, Laura Voepel, is nonbinary.

Colorado Springs District Attorney Michael Allen said that the threat of the death penalty was a “big part of what motivated the defendant” to plead guilty to the state charges of hate crimes and gun violations.

The case’s finale comes after several weeks of mounting threats to LGBTQ+ people and events during Pride Month by right-wing agitators. This year marks the third in a row of record-breaking proposals of anti-LGBTQ bills in state legislatures.

Kristen Clarke, the Department of Justice’s assistant attorney general for civil rights, said in a press conference after Aldrich’s sentencing that fighting hate crimes is a top priority. She said the department was compelled to take up the case in order to make clear that it was a “hate-motivated mass shooting.”

“We know that today’s severe sentence can’t bring loved ones, heal injuries or dissipate the lingering trauma, but today’s sentencing should send a loud message,” Clarke said.

“We will not tolerate hate in our country, and purveyors of bias-motivated violence will be held accountable for their actions. Those who seek to consummate their hate-filled ideas through violence better think twice,” she continued.

This month, the Colorado Republican Party sent a call to burn all Pride flags. In New York City, more than 150 Pride flags at the Stonewall National Monument were vandalized for the second year in a row. And drag events at libraries and restaurants have been targeted by bomb threats in Alaska, Texas, New York and Massachusetts.

Last year, there were at least 145 incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault directed at LGBTQ+ people and events during Pride Month, according to a report from GLAAD, an LGBTQ+ media advocacy group.