COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The Colorado Springs gay nightclub shooter had the charges dropped in a 2021 bomb threat case after family members who were terrorized in the incident, according to prosecutors and court documents unsealed Thursday were refused to cooperate.
The charges were dropped, although authorities found a “tub” full of bomb-making chemicals and later received warnings from other relatives that Anderson Lee Aldrich would certainly injure or murder a number of grandparents if he were freed, according to the unsealed documents would.
In a letter last November to District Court Judge Robin Chittum, the relatives painted a picture of an isolated, violent person who was unemployed and received $30,000, mostly spent on buying 3D printers to make weapons .
Aldrich attempted to reclaim guns seized 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 Aldrich threatened to kill the grandparents and become the “next mass killer” more than a year before attacking a nightclub that killed five people .
The suspect’s mother and grandparents derailed that earlier case by evading prosecutors’ efforts to serve them a subpoena, leading to a dismissal of the charges after defense attorneys said rules for a speedy trial were in jeopardy, he said everyone
At a hearing two months after the threat, the suspect’s mother and grandmother described Aldrich in court as a “loving” and “sweet” young person who didn’t deserve to be jailed, prosecutors said.
The former district attorney Allen replaced told The Associated Press he had faced many cases of people evading subpoenas, but the inability to serve Aldrich’s family seemed extraordinary.
“I don’t know if they were hiding, but if they were, they should be ashamed,” 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 the release of the documents, saying Aldrich’s right to a fair trial was paramount.
“This ensures that there is no presumption of innocence,” Archambault said.
The grandmother’s in-laws wrote to the court in November 2021 that Alrich was a continuing danger and should remain in prison. The letter also said police tried to detain Aldrich for 72 hours after he responded earlier at the home, but the grandmother intervened.
“We believe my brother and his wife would suffer physical harm or more if Anderson were released. Aside from the incarceration, we believe Anderson needs therapy and counseling,” wrote Robert Pullen and Jeanie Streltzoff. They said Aldrich punched holes in the walls of the grandparents’ Colorado home and broke windows, and the grandparents “had to sleep in their bedroom with the door locked” and a bat by the bed.
During Aldrich’s teenage years in San Antonio, the letter states, Aldrich assaulted the grandfather and took him to the emergency room with undisclosed injuries. The grandfather later lied to police out of fear of Aldrich, the letter said, which said the suspect couldn’t get along with classmates as a youth and was therefore homeschooled.
The judge’s order comes after news organizations, including AP, tried to unseal the documents and two days after AP released portions of the documents, which were reviewed by 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 terrified grandparents about guns and bomb-making materials in the grandparents’ basement and vowed not to let them interfere with plans that Aldrich would be “the next mass murderer” and “burst into flames.”
Aldrich – who uses she/she pronouns and is non-binary according to her lawyers – holed up at her mother’s home in a standoff with SWAT teams, warning of armor-piercing rounds and a determination to “go to the end”. Investigators later searched the mother’s and grandparents’ homes, where they found and seized handguns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, body armor, magazines, a gas mask and a tub of chemicals that combine to form an explosive, documents show.
A sheriff’s report said there had been previous calls to law enforcement relating to Aldrich’s “escalating homicidal behavior,” but didn’t elaborate. A spokesman for the sheriff’s office did not immediately provide additional information.
The grandparents’ call to 911 led to the suspect’s arrest, and Aldrich was jailed on suspicion of threats and kidnapping. But after Aldrich’s bail was set at $1 million, Aldrich’s mother and grandparents sought to lower bail, which was reduced to $100,000 amid conditions including therapy.
The case was dropped when attempts to serve subpoenas on family members to testify against Aldrich failed, according to Allen. Both grandparents moved out of state, which complicated the subpoena process, Allen said.
Grandmother Pamela Pullen said through a lawyer that there was a subpoena in her mailbox, but it was never handed to her or properly served, documents show.
“At the end of the day, they didn’t want to testify against Andy,” Xavier Kraus, a former friend and neighbor of Aldrich, told AP.
Kraus said he had text messages from Aldrich’s mother saying that she and the suspect were “hiding from someone.” He later found out that the family had evaded subpoenas. Aldrich’s “words were, ‘You have nothing. There’s no evidence,'” Kraus said.
A protective order against the suspect, effective through July 5, barred Aldrich from possessing firearms, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office said.
Shortly after the charges were dropped, Aldrich began boasting that they had access to firearms again, Kraus said, adding that Aldrich showed him two assault rifles, body armor and incendiary bullets.
Aldrich “was super excited,” Kraus said, sleeping under a blanket with a gun nearby.
Relatives of Aldrich’s grandmother said after the suspect’s 2021 arrest that she recently gave Aldrich $30,000, “much of which was used to purchase two 3D printers — on which he made weapons,” according to the documents in the Case.
Aldrich’s testimony in the bombing raises questions about whether authorities could have used Colorado’s “Red Flag” law to confiscate guns from the suspect.
El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder released a statement Thursday saying there was no need to seek a red flag order because Aldrich’s guns had already been seized as part of the arrest and Aldrich had no new ones can buy.
The sheriff also dismissed the idea that he could have asked for a red flag order after the case was dismissed. The bombing case is too old to argue there was danger in the near future, Elder said, and the evidence was sealed a month after the release and could not be used.
“There was no legal mechanism” to take up arms after the case was dropped, the sheriff said.
Under Colorado law, records are automatically sealed when a case is dropped and defendants are not prosecuted, as was the case with Aldrich in 2021. Once sealed, officials cannot acknowledge that the records exist, and the process of unsealing the documents initially takes place behind closed doors, with no file to follow and an unnamed judge.
Chittum said the “profound” public interest in the case outweighed Aldrich’s privacy rights. The judge added that the scrutiny of court cases is “fundamental to our system of government”.
During Thursday’s hearing, Aldrich sat at the defense table, sometimes looking straight ahead or down, and seemed to show no reaction when her mother’s attorney asked that the case be kept under wraps.
Aldrich was formally charged Tuesday with 305 felonies, including hate crimes and murder, in the Nov. 19 shooting at Club Q, a haven for the LGBTQ community in mostly conservative Colorado Springs.
Investigators say Aldrich walked in with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle just before midnight and began shooting during a drag queen’s birthday party. Patrons stopped the killing by wrestling the suspect to the ground and beating Aldrich into submission, witnesses said.
17 people suffered gunshot wounds but survived, authorities said.
Mustian, Balsamo and Condon reported from New York and Bedayn reported from Denver. Matthew Brown of Billings, Montana contributed to this report. Bedayn is a corps member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that brings journalists into local newsrooms to cover undercover topics.