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.
Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, who faces murder and hate crime charges, was known as Nicholas Brink until 2016. Just 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,” the petition stated. The boy’s mother and father signed affidavits agreeing to the name change, records in Bexar County, Texas, show.
The suspect’s father is a mixed martial arts fighter and pornography performer with an extensive criminal history, including a conviction for battery against the alleged shooter’s mother, Laura Volpe, state and federal court records show. The father, Aaron F. Brink, served 2 1/2 years in prison for importation of marijuana, according to public records.
The 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.
Police said Tuesday that Aldrich had been released from the hospital and was being held at the El Paso County 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, who was wearing a hospital gown with an oxygen tube in his nose. “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.
“But it is important to let the community know that we do not tolerate bias motivated crimes in this community, that we support communities that have been maligned, harassed and intimidated and abused,” Allen said, adding that additional charges are possible.
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 and 6-foot-4 — and pulled him down before severely beating him until police arrived.
Though his actions saved lives, Fierro said the deaths, including his daughter’s boyfriend, were a tragedy for Fierro and for the broader community.
“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.
A law enforcement official said the suspect used an AR-15-style semi-automatic weapon. A handgun and additional ammunition magazines also were recovered. The official could not discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
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 Blieberg in Dallas, Amy Forliti in Minneapolis, Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, and news researcher Rhonda Shafner from New York contributed.
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