News (USA)

Club Q shooter avoids death penalty in “upsetting” federal plea deal

Anderson Lee Aldrich
Anderson Lee Aldrich Photo: Colorado Springs Police

Anderson Lee Aldrich – the shooter who killed five and injured 19 at the LGBTQ+ nightclub Club Q in Colorado Springs in November 2022 – will plead guilty to 74 federal charges, including 50 federal hate crimes and 24 firearm violations, as part of a plea deal agreement, according to court documents.

The deal came after Aldrich initially pleaded not guilty to the charges earlier on Tuesday. If the deal is approved by the judge, Aldrich will avoid the death penalty and instead serve multiple concurrent life sentences and another 190-year prison sentence. The deal has angered some of the shooting’s survivors.

“The parties have agreed that multiple concurrent life sentences plus a consecutive sentence of 190 years imprisonment is sufficient but not greater than necessary to achieve the goals of criminal justice,” federal prosecutors wrote in a court filing.

“It’s angering and upsetting,” said Ashtin Gamblin, the 30-year-old Club Q employee who was working the night of the shooting, according to Colorado Public Radio. “Honestly, I was hoping for a death penalty.”

“ I feel like [they] just got grounded,” Gamblin, who attended Tuesday’s federal court hearing in Denver, added. “With the 2,208 years, it’s like… ‘Go sit in your room for the rest of your life.’ … I just want [them] to sit with the thought of not knowing when [they’re] going to die, or the fact [they] could die at any day, at any time, because that’s exactly what [they] did to us.”

When Aldrich pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree murder and 46 counts of attempted murder in June 2023, they received five consecutive life sentences without parole, an additional 2,208 years in prison, and another four years for state hate crime charges, CNN reported. At the time, family members of shooting victims read unforgiving statements in Aldrich’s presence.

“This thing sitting in this courtroom is not a human. It is a monster,” said Jessica Fierro, whose daughter’s boyfriend was killed in the shooting. “The devil awaits with open arms.”

“I forgive this individual, as they are a symbol of a broken system, of hate and vitriol pushed against us as a community,” said Wyatt Kent, Club Q bartender Daniel Aston’s partner, who died in the massacre. “What brings joy to me is that this hurt individual will never be able to see the joy and the light that has been wrought into our community as an outcome.”

However, on Tuesday, Club Q spokesperson Michael Anderson said, “What the shooter chose to do on November 19, 2022, was a malicious and bigoted act of violence meant to deprive countless lives of those rights – including my own. While justice cannot undo the bullets fired, lives forever changed, and friends we’ve lost on that horrific night, I hope these additional charges will serve as a deterrent from any other individual seeking to commit violence.”

The Club Q shooting occurred in the early morning hours in a city that serves as the home to Focus on the Family, one of the nation’s oldest anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups. Anti-LGBTQ+ right-wing media figures like Tucker Carlson, Matt Walsh, Steven Crowder, and others alternately denied responsibility for fomenting hatred against queer people before the shooting and said that LGBTQ+ people caused the mass murder by allegedly supporting non-existent “child genital mutilation.”

Aldrich’s lawyers say that they identify as nonbinary and use they/them pronouns, though many suspect Aldrich’s newfound identity is merely an additional way for the shooter to troll the queer community. Indeed, right-wingers recently included Aldrich in a meme listing recent suspected LGBTQ+-identified shooters as a way to suggest that queer – and particularly trans and nonbinary – people are mentally ill and a threat to public safety.

Colorado District Attorney Michael Allen said Aldrich’s claim of being nonbinary is part of an effort to avoid hate crime charges, saying there was no evidence of Aldrich identifying as nonbinary before the shooting. Considering the plea deal that was ultimately reached, though, that tactic appears unsuccessful.

They planned the attack in advance, prosecutors said, making a map of Club Q and visiting the club at least six times prior to the attack. Aldrich was taken down by a military veteran less than a minute after the shooting began. One patron stomped on the suspect with her high-heeled shoes while the veteran held him down.

Detective Rebecca Joines testified that Aldrich ran a neo-Nazi website featuring a white supremacist training video glorifying mass shootings and posting an image of a Pride parade with a rifle scope on it. They also used anti-LGBTQ+ and racist slurs while gaming. 

After the shooting, President Joe Biden sent a letter to the bar’s owners expressing his “deepest condolences” and stating the need for “a ban on assault weapons” and “other common-sense gun safety measures.” Six months later, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed four new gun control bills into law.

Club Q announced that it would reopen in fall 2023 with enhanced security measures. Survivors of the shooting say they feel hope for the community as it continues to heal from the violence.

Don't forget to share:

Support vital LGBTQ+ journalism

Reader contributions help keep LGBTQ Nation free, so that queer people get the news they need, with stories that mainstream media often leaves out. Can you contribute today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated

Woman arrested for allegedly killing teenage girlfriend

Previous article

Are far-right Republicans in the House about to sink Mike Johnson’s speakership?

Next article