“I was in [the] middle of pouring a drink when this monster came into this safe space and began hunting us down,” said Michael Anderson, a bartender at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Anderson was among the survivors of the mass shooting at the club on Nov. 19, 2022, which resulted in five deaths and 25 others injured. Daniel Aston and Derrick Rump, who both worked at Club Q, and customers Kelly Loving, Raymond Green Vance and Ashley Paugh all died in the attack. Anderson spoke at the June 26 sentencing hearing of Anderson Lee Aldrich.
The Club Q bartender spoke of his close friends and co-workers, Aston and Rump, who were killed.
“I’m the only one who got to clock out that night,” Anderson said. “I will never forgive this man. He has broken this community into pieces.”
Aldrich, 23, pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree murder and 46 counts of attempted murder — one for each person at Club Q. Aldrich was sentenced to five consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to the massacre. Judge Michael McHenry sentenced Aldrich to an additional 2,208 years in prison for the attempted murder charges.
Aldrich, who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, also pleaded no contest to “bias-motivated crime” charges and received a four-year sentence for the bias-motivated charges, which are similar to hate-crime charges in other states.
The FBI has confirmed that the agency opened a federal investigation into the Club Q shooting in November 2022 after the sentencing.
As PGN reported in November, minutes before midnight on Nov. 19, Aldrich entered Colorado Springs’ only LGBTQ+ nightclub and began shooting an assault weapon into the crowd. Aldrich was subdued by former Army Maj. Richard Fierro, a 15-year veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. Fierro was at the club with his family to watch his daughter’s close friend perform at Club Q’s regular Saturday-night drag show. Fierro said that he took a handgun from Aldrich, hit him with it and pinned him down with help from another man, Thomas James.
“Had that individual not intervened, this could have been exponentially more tragic,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said at the time.
At the sentencing, Fierro said, “Nov. 19, 2022, was my second 9/11.”
“I have more respect for the adversaries I fought overseas than I do for this individual,” Fierro said. “I want him to know his evil was stopped by a person of color, by LGBTQ folks, by a trans woman, by actual combat veterans.”
At the sentencing, Judge McHenry said, “You are targeting a group of people for their simple existence. Like too many people in our culture, you chose to find a power that day behind the trigger of a gun. Your actions reflect the deepest malice of the human heart, almost always born of ignorance and fear.”
Aldrich declined to make a statement during the hearing, but their public defender, Joseph Archambault, briefly spoke on their behalf.
“They want everybody to know they are sorry,” Archambault said.
Aldrich said “yes, your honor” after the judge confirmed the guilty pleas. “I intentionally and after deliberation, caused the death of each victim,” Aldrich said.
Aldrich’s plea agreement means there will be no trial.
“Cases of this magnitude are rarely resolved so quickly,” Fourth Judicial District Attorney Michael Allen said in a news conference after the sentencing.
During Monday’s news conference, Allen referred to the shooter with male pronouns, and later explained “there is zero evidence prior to the shooting that he was nonbinary.”
“He exhibited extreme hatred for people in the LGBTQ+ community and other minority groups as well,” Allen said.
He added that Aldrich allegedly “pointed to drug use and other issues to paint himself as a victim, but nothing could be further from the truth. He harbored hatred and a commitment to violence towards the LGBTQ+ community.”
“That is the longest sentence ever achieved in the Fourth Judicial District and the second, to my knowledge, longest sentence ever achieved in the state of Colorado, second only to the sentence achieved in the Aurora theater shooting case,” Allen said of McHenry’s sentence.
Prosecutors could not seek the death penalty because in 2020, Colorado abolished the death penalty, the 22nd state to do so.
“The death penalty still matters even if it’s not law in the state of Colorado,” Allen said.
“Cases like this are why the death penalty should exist in the state of Colorado,” Allen added. “The victims in this case deserve the ultimate punishment that the law can provide.”
Allen also said the threat of the death penalty — if federal prosecutors pursued charges — was a key factor in Aldrich’s motivation in taking the plea agreement, though federal charges may still be possible.
“The death penalty in the federal system, I think, is a big reason why this defendant decided to take a guilty plea with the sentence that we achieved in this case.” Allen said. “Part of that is that in the federal system, if you show substantial mitigation — so if you take full responsibility at the state level — that can sometimes avoid a federal death-sentence pursuit. Whether that happens or not, again, is up to the federal U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
Mark Michalek, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Denver Field Office, held a press conference following Aldrich’s sentencing. Michalek said the FBI is working in coordination with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in an ongoing investigation into Aldrich and the mass shooting targeting the LGBTQ+ community.
As PGN reported, for 21 years, Club Q was Colorado Springs’s safe space for LGBTQ+ people and their friends. Families of all ages, like the heroic Fierro, gathered for brunch on Sundays to watch drag performers.
During victims’ impact statements at the sentencing, some families of those killed and wounded had asked McHenry to give the harshest possible sentencing.
Cheryl Norton, whose daughter Ashtin Gamblin was shot nine times but survived said, “Please your honor, I’m pleading with you: Lock this animal away to the depths of hell.”
Norton said her daughter was covered in the blood of Aston, who had tried to protect Gamblin in the shooting. Aston was among the dead.
Aston’s parents told reporters after the sentencing that they were thankful a federal investigation is ongoing.
“I hope they do press charges and I hope we get the death penalty out of this,” Jeff Aston, the father of Daniel, said. But he described his feelings about the sentencing as “hollow. It’s not enough closure. Not even close.”
Story courtesy of Philadelphia Gay News via the National LGBTQ Media Association. The National LGBTQ Media Association represents 13 legacy publications in major markets across the country with a collective readership of more than 400K in print and more than 1 million + online. Learn more here: https://nationallgbtmediaassociation.com/