Lawyers for the 22-year-old accused of murdering five people at a Colorado LGBTQ club said their client is non-binary ahead of an initial court appearance Wednesday (Nov. 23), as details emerged of a chaotic past including family breakdown and a name change.
At least 18 others were hurt when a gun-wielding attacker stormed Club Q in Colorado Springs on Saturday night (Nov. 19), opening fire on customers and staff.
The assault, which ended when a US Army veteran pounced on the attacker, shattered a rare safe haven for the city's tight-knit LGBTQ community.
On Wednesday, suspect Anderson Lee Aldrich appeared by video link at a court hearing, wearing orange jail clothes.
No charges were levied, and no pleas entered.
Aldrich, who remained seated throughout, was flanked by two public defenders, who said in court documents filed Tuesday (Nov. 22) that the suspect identifies as nonbinary, and uses they/them pronouns.
The defendant spoke only to confirm their name and that they had been shown a video outlining their rights, when questioned by county court judge Charlotte Ankeny.
Aldrich has not been formally charged, but is being held without bond on suspicion of murder. Under Colorado's judicial system, formal charges are not expected for another 10 days.
A picture of Aldrich's messy life began to emerge Wednesday, with a childhood marked by instability and with parents who suffered from substance abuse problems.
US media reported that Aldrich was born Nicholas Brink to parents who had separated by the time the child turned two.
Nicholas became Anderson Lee Aldrich in a legal name change during teenage years spent in Texas.
By then, The New York Times reported—citing court records—Aldrich's father, Aaron Franklin Brink, had logged several arrests in California in connection with drug and driving offenses.
Brink, a conservative Republican who said he has worked as a porn actor, told CBS in San Diego that his ex-wife, Laura Voepel, informed him several years ago that their child had died.
He continued to believe this until a phone call with Aldrich a few months ago, which he said degenerated into an argument and threats by his child to assault Brink.
Brink, who said he now coaches mixed martial arts, told CBS he had "praised" Aldrich for violent behavior as a child.
"I told him it works. It is instant and you'll get immediate results," the father said.
Excerpts of the interview posted online showed Brink—who has previously appeared on a reality TV show about his drug addiction—confused about the location of his child's alleged crime.
"They started telling me about the incident, a shooting involving multiple people," Brink said of a phone call he received Sunday from Aldrich's defense attorney.
"You know Mormons don’t do gay. We don’t do gay. There’s no gays in the Mormon church. We don’t do gay," Brink said about finding out the shooting was at an LGBTQ bar.
He said he was sorry for his child's alleged actions, and that there is "no excuse for going and killing people."
The New York Times said Voepel, Aldrich's mother, had also had run-ins with California law enforcement, including for public drunkenness and in connection with possession of a controlled substance.
In 2012, she was given five years' probation in Texas for setting fire to a bed in the psychiatric ward to which she had been admitted, according to court records seen by the Times.
Aldrich is the grandchild of California state Congressman Randy Voepel, the Los Angeles Times and other media said.
Wednesday's brief hearing came just days after the brutal attack in Club Q, with the small Rocky Mountain city of half a million people still reeling.
A bank of flowers and teddy bears formed a makeshift memorial outside the club, while on Monday night a candlelit vigil was held in a city center park.
But along with the mourning, there has also been praise for the bravery and quick-thinking of military veteran Richard Fierro, who was visiting the club with his wife.
Fierro told reporters he had snatched the attacker's pistol.
"I don't know exactly what I did, I just went into combat mode," he said. "I just know I have to kill this guy before he kills us.
"I grabbed the gun out of his hand and just started hitting him in the head, over and over," Fierro told The New York Times.
Booking photos issued by police on Wednesday show injuries to Aldrich's head, face and neck.
A tentative new court appearance for Aldrich has been scheduled for Dec. 6. (AFP)