COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – The Colorado Springs gay nightclub shooter had been charged in a 2021 bomb threat case after family members who were terrified in the incident refused to cooperate, according to the district attorney and court documents released Thursday.
Charges were dropped despite authorities finding a “vat” full of bomb-making chemicals and later receiving warnings from other family members who suspected Anderson Lee Aldrich would surely injure or kill a set of grandparents if he was released, according to the unsealed documents.
In a letter last November to state District Judge Robin Chittum, the family members painted a picture of a violent, isolated person who was out of work and given $30,000 that was largely spent on buying 3D printers to make weapons.
Aldrich tried to retrieve the guns that were confiscated after the threat, but authorities did not return the guns, El Paso County District Attorney Michael Allen said.
Allen spoke hours after Chittum unsealed the case, which included allegations that Aldrich threatened to kill the grandparents and become the “next mass murderer” more than a year before the nightclub attack that killed five people
The suspect’s mother and grandparents derailed the earlier case by evading prosecutors’ efforts to serve them with a subpoena, leading to the charges being dismissed after defense lawyers said speedy trial rules were at risk , Allen said.
Testifying at a hearing two months after the threat, the suspect’s mother and grandmother described Aldrich in court as a “loving” and “sweet” young man who did not deserve to be jailed, the prosecutor said.
The former district attorney who was replaced by Allen told The Associated Press that he dealt with many cases where people dodged subpoenas, but the inability to serve Aldrich’s family seemed extraordinary.
“I don’t know if they were hiding, but if that was the case, shame on you,” Dan May said of the suspect’s family. “This is an extreme example of apparent manipulation that has resulted in something horrific.”
Aldrich’s attorney, Public Defender Joseph Archambault, had argued against releasing the document, saying Aldrich’s right to a fair trial was paramount.
“This will make sure there is no presumption of innocence,” Archambault said.
The grandmother’s in-laws wrote to the court in November 2021 saying Alrich was a continuing danger and should remain incarcerated. The letter also said police tried to detain Aldrich for 72 hours after a previous response to the home, but the grandmother intervened.
“We believe my brother and his wife would suffer bodily harm or more if Anderson were released. In addition to being incarcerated, we believe Anderson needs therapy and counseling,” wrote Robert Pullen and Jeanie Streltzoff. They said Aldrich had punched holes in the walls of the grandparents’ home in Colorado and broken windows and that the grandparents “had to sleep in their bedroom with the door closed” and a bat next to the bed.
During Aldrich’s teenage years in San Antonio, the letter said, Aldrich attacked the grandfather and sent him to the emergency room with undisclosed injuries. The grandfather later lied to police out of fear of Aldrich, according to the letter, which said the suspect could not get along with his peers as a youth so he had been homeschooled.
The judge’s order comes after news organizations, including the AP, sought to seal the documents and two days after the AP published portions of the documents that were verified with a law enforcement official.
Aldrich, 22, was arrested in June 2021 on charges of making a threat that led to the evacuation of about 10 homes. The documents describe how Aldrich told the frightened grandparents about the firearms and bomb-making material in the grandparents’ basement and vowed not to let them interfere with plans for Aldrich to be “the next mass murderer” and “to extinguished in a fire.”
Aldrich, who uses his pronouns and is non-binary, according to his lawyers, hid in his mother’s house in a standoff with SWAT teams and warned of armor-piercing rounds and a determination to “go to in the end”. Investigators later searched the homes of the mother and grandparents where they found and seized guns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, body armor, magazines, a gas mask and a tub full of chemicals that, when combined, make an explosive, documents show.
A sheriff’s report said there had been previous calls to law enforcement about Aldrich’s “escalating homicidal behavior,” but did not elaborate. A spokesman for the sheriff’s office did not immediately provide further information.
The grandparents’ 911 call led to the suspect’s arrest and Aldrich was booked into jail on suspicion of menacing and kidnapping. But after Aldrich’s bond was set at $1 million, Aldrich’s mother and grandparents tried to lower the bond, which was lowered to $100,000 with conditions including therapy.
The case was dropped when attempts to serve family members with subpoenas to testify against Aldrich failed, according to Allen. Both grandparents moved out of state, which complicated the subpoena process, Allen said.
The grandmother, Pamela Pullen, said through an attorney that there was a subpoena in her mailbox, but it was never personally delivered to her or properly served, documents show.
“At the end of the day, they weren’t going to testify against Andy,” Xavier Kraus, a former friend and neighbor of Aldrich’s, told the AP.
Kraus said she had text messages from Aldrich’s mother saying she and the suspect were “hiding from someone.” He later learned that the family had been dodging subpoenas. Aldrich’s “words” were: ‘They have nothing. There is no evidence,” Kraus said.
An order of protection against the suspect that was in effect until July 5 prevented Aldrich from possessing firearms, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office said.
Shortly after dropping the charges, Aldrich began bragging about regaining access to firearms, Kraus said, adding that Aldrich had shown him two assault rifles, body armor and incendiary rounds.
Aldrich “was very excited,” Kraus said, and slept with a rifle nearby under a blanket.
Relatives of Aldrich’s grandmother said after the suspect’s arrest in 2021 that she had recently given Aldrich $30,000, “much of which went toward his purchase of two 3D printers, which he was making weapons,” according to case documents.
Aldrich’s statements in the bomb case raised questions about whether authorities could have used Colorado’s “red flag” law to seize the suspect’s guns.
El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder issued a statement Thursday saying there was no need to request a red flag warrant because Aldrich’s guns had already been seized as part of the arrest and Aldrich could not purchase any new ones
The sheriff also dismissed the idea that he might have sought a red flag warrant after the case was dismissed. The assault case was too old to argue there was imminent danger, Elder said, and the evidence was sealed a month after the dismissal and could not be used.
“There was no legal mechanism” to take guns after the case was dismissed, the sheriff said.
Under Colorado law, records are automatically sealed when a case is filed and the defendants are not prosecuted, as happened in Aldrich’s case in 2021. Once sealed, officials cannot acknowledge that the records exist, and the process to unseal the documents initially occurs behind closed doors with no record to follow and an unnamed judge.
Chittum said the “profound” public interest in the case outweighed Aldrich’s privacy rights. The judge added that scrutiny of court cases is “fundamental to our system of government.”
During Thursday’s hearing, Aldrich sat at the defense table looking straight ahead or down at times and appeared to show no reaction when his mother’s attorney asked that the case be dismissed.
Aldrich was formally charged Tuesday with 305 criminal chargesincluding hate crimes and murder, in the Nov. 19 shooting at Club Q, a sanctuary for the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs, mostly conservative.
Investigators say Aldrich walked in shortly before midnight with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and began shooting during a drag queen’s birthday celebration. According to witnesses, patrons stopped the killing by wrestling the suspect to the ground and beating Aldrich into submission.
Seventeen people suffered gunshot wounds but survived, authorities said.
Mustian, Balsamo and Condon reported from New York, and Bedayn reported from Denver. Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana contributed to this report. Bedayn is a member of the corps of The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a national nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues.