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Anderson Lee Aldrich pleads guilty to 53 charges for killing five in Club Q shooting

The Independent’s Sheila Flynn is live at the courthouse where victims are providing impact statements

Graig Graziosi,Gustaf Kilander,Sheila Flynn
Monday 26 June 2023 20:21 BST
Anderson Lee Aldrich pleads guilty to 53 charges for killing five in Club Q shooting

Anderson Lee Aldrich, the suspect in a mass shooting at a Colorado Springs LGBT+ nightclub that left five dead and 17 wounded, has pleaded guilty to 53 charges, including five for first degree murder.

Aldrich's guilty plea means the victims' families will not be subjected to a months-long trial forcing them to relive the day of the attack.

Aldrich orginally faced 305 criminal counts, including hate crimes and murder.

The guilty plea included five first-degree murder charges, 46 charges of attempted first-degree murder, and two bias-motivated crimes.

The shooter, who says they are non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, reportedly spoke with Associated Press reporters ahead of the hearing, expressed remorse for the deadly shooting at Colorado Springs’ Club Q and claimed they would accept a plea deal from the prosecution.

Family members of the victims told news outlets that they had been information by the prosecution that Aldrich would take a plea deal, and that the prosecution would seek a life sentence.

Had the trial continued, family members of the victims would likely have been subject to surveillance footage that captured the shooting, including the possible final moments of their loved ones.

After the plea, family members of the victims provided tearful victim impact statements, with Aldrich looking on from mere feet away.

They called Aldrich a terrorist, an animal, a loser, a monster -- even “it” in an attempt to dehumanize the shooter who took five lives and attempted to extinguish 46 others.

Large, handcuffed and mostly silent, the shooter looked on before accepting the punishment of more than 2,000 years behind bars.

“Lock this animal away to the depths of hell, and send a clear message that love, and not hate, will be tolerated,” said Cheryl Norton, whose daughter, Ashtin Gamblin, survived nine gunshot wounds after covering herself in the blood of friend and murdered coworker Daniel Aston.

Ms Norton and Ms Gamblin described in vivid and horrifying detail how Mr Aston stood in front of her as Aldrich -- who’d met Ms Gamblin and conversed with her earlier in the night before returning in body armor with a veritable arsenal -- opened fire just before midnight in Club Q.

“A positive force has been taken out of the world,” Daniel’s father told the judge and crowded courtroom. “Daniel should be here. He was in the prime of his life. He was happy; he had hopes, dreams and plans that will never be realized.”

Describing Daniel’s “contagious smile and burning blue eyes,” he continued: “We will never hear any of his funny stories again. I will never again hear him laugh at my Dad jokes ... he had a good life with many positive things in store for him that was taken away from him way too soon. He was a huge light in this world that was snuffed out by a heinous, evil and cowardly act.”

Mr Aston’s parents were the first to speak – and the final speaker proved to be among the most dramatic, temporarily pausing the prosecution’s address of the judge when Drea Norman – who helped subdue Aldrich on the night – stood before the mic.

Aldrich was first heroically tackled by Thomas James, an active member of the Navy, who was shot for his efforts but continued his attack on Aldrich. Then Army veteran and Colorado Springs brewery owner leapt into action, beating Aldrich and holding the shooter on the ground. Then Drea stepped in.

“I heard Richard shouting that he needed help; the shooter was crawling away from the grasp that he had him in,” Drea said on Monday. “As I stood above him, my only thought was, throw my foot down and stop him - and after I would imagine was ten strikes, I stopped, feeling like that was more than enough - and I walked away ... that was when the police came in, and they were looking for Mr Aldrich and I pointed, gesturing at him ... and they proceeded to detain and arrest him.”

Ms Gamblinn also took the mic, and recalled having a conversation with Aldrich the night of the shooting. Despite their interaction, she "was still bombarded with gunshots nearly an hour later,” she said.

"When I stared him in the face, shots were going off. I nestled in my friend's body, soaking in his blood,” she said. “When the music stopped, I could hear screams in full force."

She called the plea deal "weakness" and said that "hate deserves every f****** ounce of torture and then some".

Richard Fierro, an Army veteran who helped stop Aldrich’s attack, called him a “terrorist” and said he hopes “the words I yelled into the back of your head echo for the rest of your life”.

“I want him to know his evil was stopped by a person of colour, by LGBTQ folks, by a trans woman, by actual combat veterans, real heroes,” Mr Fierro said.

Mr Fierro’s daughter was dating Raymond Green Vance, who was killed in the shooting.

Judge Michael McHenry ruled in May that the footage could not be made public before Aldrich's trial. Both the prosecution and the defence agreed with the judge's ruling, stating that the videos release could complicate jury selection and demean the relatives and the memory of the victims.

The public defenders representing Aldrich said in a motion on 2 March that “those individuals deserve the respect of not having the last moments or the most traumatic moments of their lives broadcast and downloadable from a State of Colorado web site”.

They added that the video would be difficult to redact as printed documents may be. They said the footage shows “moments of death and severe injury to several people”.

Authorities have said that on 19 November 2022, Aldrich went to Club Q before leaving, only to return later.

Surveillance footage from the attack shows Aldrich entering the venue wearing a ballistic vest over a red t-shirt. Aldrich used an AR-style rifle, and had six magazines and a pistol, Detective Jason Gasper said during a February preliminary hearing.

FILE - This booking photo provided by the Colorado Springs, Colo., Police Department shows Anderson Lee Aldrich. (Colorado Springs Police Department via AP, File) (Colorado Springs Police Department)

Investigators said Aldrich began firing not long after entering the nightclub.

Detective Ashton Gardner testified that the shooting ended when Navy information systems technician Thomas James grabbed the hot barrel of the rifle, burning his hand.

The shooting sparked panic in the club, and clubgoers fled the scene with Mr James and Aldrich falling off a landing as they fought over a handgun. Aldrich shot Mr James in the ribs, according to Mr Gardner.

Despite being wounded, the footage shows a tiring Mr James as he “continues to do what he can to subdue the suspect until police arrive,” Mr Gardner said, adding that Mr James subsequently gave his ambulance spot to another wounded person.

As Aldrich and Mr James struggled, Army veteran Richard Fierro rushed to them, grabbing the rifle and throwing it, according to Mr Gardner.

Mr Fierro grabbed the handgun and used it to strike Aldrich repeatedly until the arrival of officers.

Witnesses have said that Aldrich visited Club Q at least six times in the years leading up to the attack.

In the mostly conservative city of Colorado Springs, Club Q has long served as a safe haven for members of the LGBT+ community.

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