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Anderson Lee Aldrich: Club Q shooter sentenced to life imprisonment plus 190 years


Denver
CNN

The gunman who opened fire at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado in 2022, killing five people and injuring 19, was sentenced by a federal court on Tuesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole plus 190 years.

Anderson Lee Aldrich was convicted after pleading guilty to 74 counts of hate crimes and weapons possession in connection with the shooting. Prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty in the case, and the U.S. Department of Justice announced in January that it had reached a plea agreement with Aldrich.

US District Judge Charlotte Sweeney made the ruling after hearing from the victims' families and survivors of the shooting, many of whom expressed disappointment that Aldrich did not face the death penalty.

“Driven by hatred, the defendant targeted members of the LGBTQIA+ community in a place that represented belonging, safety, and acceptance – robbing five people of their loved ones, injuring 19 others, and spreading fear and terror across the country,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement after the verdict.

Sweeney, the first LGBTQ+ federal judge in Colorado, did not have the authority to impose a different sentence, she said, citing the agreement. But she stressed the importance of Aldrich's decision to plead guilty: By doing so, she said, Aldrich admitted to carrying out the attack based on the victims' “actual or perceived gender identity or sexual orientation.”

“This community is stronger than your armor, stronger than your weapons, and stronger than your hate,” she told Aldrich, not considering that she was judging him during Pride Month.

Aldrich, 24, is already serving five consecutive life sentences and an additional 2,212 years without the possibility of parole in Wyoming State Prison after pleading guilty to state charges for the attack in 2023. The attack targeted one of the few LGBTQ+ spaces in Colorado Springs that fostered a safe and inclusive atmosphere in a conservative community.

“I loved this place,” Ashtin Gamblin, who was shot nine times and survived, said in her victim impact statement before the sentencing. Although she is not a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Gamblin said she is an ally.

“I liked everyone there,” she said, thanking Club Q bar supervisor Daniel Aston for saving her life before he was killed.

In addition to Aston, Derrick Rump, another Club Q employee, as well as Ashley Paugh, Kelly Loving and Raymond Green Vance were also killed.

Many of the witnesses who testified Tuesday expressed anger at the shooter and the pain Aldrich caused them or their families. Aldrich – who appeared in court wearing an orange prison uniform – was largely expressionless or nodding as he listened to the testimony.

“They took my only sibling from me,” said Stephanie Clark, Paugh's sister, who also testified at Aldrich's sentencing.

“But I wanted to look you in the eyes one more time and tell you that I will never forgive you, and neither will my family,” Clark said. “You don't deserve this.”

Wyatt Kent, who performed as a drag queen the night of the shooting, said it was difficult to prepare this statement during Pride Month, but pointed to the resilience of the LGBTQ+ community.

“I forgive you,” Kent said. “We, the queer community, we are the resilient ones. We continue to hold that beauty within us. We continue to find joy in the trauma and the pain.”

“Unfortunately,” Kent said, “these are things you won’t experience for the rest of your life.”

A “brazen and calculated” attack

In a ruling submitted to the court ahead of Tuesday's hearing, the Justice Department called the shooting a “brazen and calculated” attack on club employees and patrons, describing it as a “biased, premeditated attack with a large number of victims.”

Aldrich began the Massacre at the club as guests gathered for Transgender Day of Remembrance, for which Club Q had planned a weekend of events, including a drag show.

The shooter spent more than $9,000 to buy weapons and visited the club several times beforehand to familiarize himself with the ambience, the sentencing document states. Aldrich had openly expressed his hatred of the LGBTQ+ community and had previously expressed an interest in mass shootings, the document states.

Then, in the late hours of Nov. 19, 2022, the then 22-year-old entered the club with an AR-15-style assault rifle and began “shooting everyone in sight,” according to the sentencing document. Some patrons hid or played dead while Aldrich walked through the club, firing indiscriminately.

El Paso County District Court/AP

Anderson Lee Aldrich, center, sits during a court hearing in Colorado Springs in November 2022.

The violence ended when an Army veteran, with the help of a Marine sergeant and a drag queen from the club, took down the shooter.

The shooting was reminiscent of the devastating 2016 shooting at Pulse, an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that left 49 people dead.

Several victims who were shot but survived required surgery for their injuries and continue to struggle with medical problems, including limited mobility and post-traumatic stress disorder.

For Colorado Springs' queer community, the mass shooting was traumatic. The club was an important haven for people of all backgrounds living in a conservative stronghold. A trans man who worked as a drag king at Club Q told CNN after the shooting: “Our safety as queer people in Colorado Springs is now being questioned. I'm afraid to be myself as a trans man in this community.”

Aldrich faces a heavy sentence for the brutal attack: According to the district attorney, the 2023 sentence is the second longest ever imposed in Colorado. Only the longest prison sentence was imposed after the Aurora movie theater shooting in 2012.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the status of Anderson Lee Aldrich's confession. The gunman agreed in January to plead guilty in connection with the Club Q shooting.