By THOMAS PEIPERT, JESSE BEDAYN and BRITTANY PETERSON
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The suspect in the fatal shooting of five people at a Colorado gay nightclub changed his name more than six years ago as a teenager, after filing a legal petition in Texas saying he wanted to “protect himself” from a father with a criminal history including domestic violence against the suspect’s mother.
Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, who faces murder and hate crime charges, was known as Nicholas Franklin Brink until 2016. Weeks before his 16th birthday, he petitioned a Texas court to change his name, court records show. A petition for the name change was submitted on Brink’s behalf by his grandparents, who were his legal guardians at the time.
“Minor wishes to protect himself and his future from any connections to birth father and his criminal history. Father has had no contact with minor for several years,” said the petition filed in Bexar County, Texas.
The suspect’s father is a mixed martial arts fighter and pornography performer with an extensive criminal history, including convictions for battery against the alleged shooter’s mother, Laura Voepel, both before and after the suspect was born, state and federal court records show. A 2002 misdemeanor battery conviction in California resulted in a protective order that initially barred the father, Aaron F. Brink, from contacting the suspect or his mother except through an attorney, but was later modified to allow monitored visits with the child.
The father also was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in custody for importation of marijuana and while on supervised release violated his conditions by testing positive for illegal steroids, according to public records. Brink could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
His son’s request for a name change came months after Aldrich was apparently targeted by online bullying. A website posting from June 2015 that attacked a boy named Nick Brink suggests he may have been bullied in high school. The post included photos similar to ones of the shooting suspect and ridiculed Brink over his weight, lack of money and what it said was an interest in Chinese cartoons.
Additionally, a YouTube account was opened in Brink’s name that included an animation titled “Asian homosexual gets molested.”
The motive in Saturday’s shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs was still under investigation, but the details emerging about the suspect suggest a turbulent upbringing. The name change and bullying were first reported by The Washington Post.
Aldrich was tackled and beaten by bar patrons during the attack that left 17 other people with gunshot wounds. He faces five murder charges and five charges of committing a bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury, online court records showed.
Aldrich was released from the hospital and being held at the El Paso County jail, police said. He’s scheduled to make his first court appearance Wednesday by video from jail.
He was arrested last year after his mother reported he threatened her with a homemade bomb and other weapons. Ring doorbell video obtained by The Associated Press shows Aldrich arriving at his mother’s front door with a big black bag the day of the 2021 bomb threat, telling her the police were nearby and adding, “This is where I stand. Today I die.”
Authorities at the time said no explosives were found, but gun-control advocates have asked why police didn’t use Colorado’s “red flag” laws to seize the weapons his mother says he had.
The weekend assault took place at a nightclub known as a sanctuary for the LGBTQ community in this mostly conservative city of about 480,000 about 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of Denver.
A longtime Club Q patron who was shot in the back and thigh said the club’s reputation made it a target. Speaking in a video statement released by UC Health Memorial Hospital, Ed Sanders said he thought about what he would do in a mass shooting after the 2016 massacre of 49 people at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
“I think this incident underlines the fact that LGBT people need to be loved,” said Sanders, 63. “I want to be resilient. I’m a survivor. I’m not going to be taken out by some sick person.”
Hate crime charges would require proving that the gunman was motivated by bias, such as against the victims’ actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The charges against Aldrich are preliminary, and prosecutors have not yet filed formal charges.
Court documents laying out Aldrich’s arrest were sealed at the request of prosecutors. He’s represented by Joseph Archambault, a chief trial deputy with the state public defender’s office. Lawyers from the office do not comment on cases to the media.
Local and federal authorities have declined to answer questions about why hate crime charges were being considered. District Attorney Michael Allen noted that the murder charges would carry the harshest penalty — life in prison — whereas bias crimes are eligible for probation. He also said it was important to show the community that bias motivated crimes are not tolerated.
The attack was halted by two club patrons including Richard Fierro, who told reporters that he took a handgun from Aldrich, hit him with it and pinned him down with help from another person.
Fierro, a former Army major who now owns a local brewery, said he was celebrating a birthday with family members when the suspect “came in shooting.” Fierro said he ran at the suspect — who was wearing some type of body armor and is described in jail records as 260 pounds (118 kilograms) and 6-foot-4 (193 centimeters) — and pulled him down before severely beating him until police arrived.
The victims included his daughter’s boyfriend.
“There are five people that I could not help, and one of which was family to me,” he said.
The other patron who intervened was Thomas James, a Navy information systems technician stationed in Colorado Springs, according to a biography released by the Navy. A Navy spokesperson said Tuesday that James was in stable condition recovering from unspecified injuries.
Fierro said a third person also helped and kicked the suspect in the head.
The victims were Raymond Green Vance, 22, a Colorado Springs native who was saving money to get his own apartment; Ashley Paugh, 35, a mother who helped find homes for foster children; Daniel Aston, 28, who had worked at the club as a bartender and entertainer; Kelly Loving, 40, whose sister described her as “caring and sweet”; and Derrick Rump, 38, another club bartender known for his wit.
Bedayn is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
Associated Press reporters Bernard Condon in New York, Colleen Slevin in Denver, Jake Bleiberg in Dallas, Amy Forliti in Minneapolis, Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles and news researcher Rhonda Shafner from New York contributed.
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