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The Club Q suspect's bomb threat case was dismissed because victims wouldn't testify

In this image taken from El Paso County District Court video, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, center, sits during a court appearance in Colorado Springs, Colo., Tuesday, Dec. Nov. 6, 2022.
AP
In this image taken from El Paso County District Court video, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, center, sits during a court appearance in Colorado Springs, Colo., Tuesday, Dec. Nov. 6, 2022.

Updated December 9, 2022 at 5:30 PM ET

The suspect in last month's Club Q's shooting was arrested last year on felony charges, but the case never made it to trial because the victims — the suspect's relatives — wouldn't testify, Colorado authorities said Thursday.

Anderson Lee Aldrich is accused of fatally shooting five people and wounding 17 others at the gay nightclub in Colorado Springs last month. Prosecutors charged Aldrich, who uses they/them pronouns, with 305 criminal counts on Tuesday.

And on Thursday, Colorado authorities and newly unsealed court documents confirmed it wasn't the first time the 22-year-old has faced criminal charges.

A court dismissed five felony charges against Aldrich four months before the Club Q shooting

In June 2021, Aldrich was arrested on allegations of making a bomb threat that led to a lengthy standoff with SWAT teams, according to an affidavit unsealed Thursday by a judge.

Aldrich's grandparents told police that Aldrich had held them hostage in their own home, at times chugging vodka, pointing a weapon at their heads and sharing plans to be the next mass killer.

Aldrich was charged with five felonies, including first-degree kidnapping. The case was prosecuted in Colorado, but the state's strict public records laws had kept the documents sealed and prevented state officials from publicly acknowledging their existence.

That didn't stop local and national media outlets from reporting on the case in the immediate aftermath of the Club Q shooting. But incomplete and misleading narratives prompted Colorado District Attorney Michael Allen to hold a news conference on Thursday, defending his office's handling of the case.

Any chance of conviction dissolved when it appeared that Aldrich's grandparents and mother were unwilling to testify, Allen said.

A subpoena service failed to connect with the witnesses, the only people who could've delivered testimony on the bomb threat without violating hearsay laws.

Timing also played a role. After two trial delays at the prosecution's request, the judge granted the defense's motion to dismiss in July 2022, three weeks ahead of the six-month deadline for completing a "speedy trial" under Colorado law.

"No one gave up on this case. We were fighting until the very end," Allen said.

"The only way that it would have prevented the [Club Q] tragedy is if the witnesses actually were present at trial, testified and somebody was convicted," he added.

Aldrich allegedly told their family they would be the next mass killer

Mourners hold a candlelight vigil outside the State Capitol in Denver on Nov. 23 to honor the victims of the Club Q shooting. The state's red flag laws have come under question following news that a criminal case involving the main suspect was dropped just four months earlier.
Chet Strange / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Mourners hold a candlelight vigil outside the State Capitol in Denver on Nov. 23 to honor the victims of the Club Q shooting. The state's red flag laws have come under question following news that a criminal case involving the main suspect was dropped just four months earlier.

Aldrich's grandmother, Pamela Pullen, placed the initial 911 call leading to Aldrich's arrest, saying she was "living in fear" after Aldrich said they were collecting ammunition, firearms and bulletproof armor in order to become the next mass shooter, according to arrest records.

On June 18, 2021, Pullen called a family meeting to discuss a plan to move to Florida. Aldrich, upset by the idea, allegedly began loading bullets into the magazine of a Glock handgun and aiming it at their grandparents, saying "you guys die today."

Aldrich later carried a box of chemicals into the room, claiming it was a homemade bomb.

After their grandparents fled by car, Aldrich drove to their mother's house. A SWAT team eventually surrounded the property, negotiating with Aldrich.

They had "a gas mask, armor, piercing rounds" and were "ready to go to the end" but eventually surrendered to police, the arrest records say.

In an August 2021 hearing to lower Aldrich's initial $1 million bond, their mother and grandparents described them to the judge as loving, unusually bright and someone who would take advantage of another chance.

Aldrich was released a few days later on a $100,000 bond with conditions they live with their mother.

Kristy Bootes, an independent victim's advocate that spoke at the district attorney's news conference, said it was very common for witnesses to recant their statements or decline to testify against family members.

"There's many reasons why a crime victim may recant, but in my experience, the most common reasons are love, fear and guilt," she explained, though the reason that Aldrich's family didn't testify is still unclear.

An order to restrict Aldrich's access to weapons expired when the case was dismissed

Reporters peppered Allen with questions about why the incident hadn't triggered Colorado's red flag laws, which are designed to prevent individuals deemed at risk of violence from purchasing or possessing a firearm.

Investigators seized two weapons from Aldrich at the time of the bomb threat — a so-called "ghost gun" with a Glock frame and no serial number, as well as an assault rifle.

Aldrich unsuccessfully petitioned to retrieve the guns from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office following their release.

Other court documents released Thursday included a letter from two siblings of Aldrich's grandfather, which claims Aldrich had been making guns on a 3D printer.

Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez told NPR's Morning Edition last month that the shooter at Club Q carried an "AR-style platform" long gun along with multiple magazines with ammunition, but authorities have not provided any updates on how and when the weapons were obtained.

Aldrich's felony charges in the bomb threat case triggered a mandatory protection order, which has the same effect as red flag laws. It remained in effect the 383 days the case was pending, but ended in July 2022 with the case's dismissal.

Under Colorado law, family members or law enforcement can request an emergency risk protection order that allows the seizure of weapons from someone deemed a reasonable threat. But the ERPO only takes effect for 14 days.

After the 14 days expire, a court can grant an extension lasting up to 364 days, but Allen said the district attorney's office lacks the power to make such a request under state statute.

One agency that does have the power to request an ERPO is the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, which investigated the 2021 incident.

But in a statement released Thursday, the office said Aldrich didn't need an ERPO because it had already seized all known weapons in Aldrich's possession and the evidence to justify an ERPO was rendered unusable when the case was dismissed and sealed.

"The legal ability Aldrich had to acquire firearms following the dismissal of the previous case and the [mandatory protection order triggered by the felony charges] can only be addressed legislatively," reads the statement. "It most certainly is not a situation with which to indict the El Paso County Sheriff's Office for wrongdoing or inaction in this case."

In preliminary hearings for the Club Q case, Aldrich's attorneys have repeatedly called for documents to be sealed to protect the defendant's rights for a fair trial in the face of intense publicity.

Aldrich has yet to enter a plea for the 305 criminal charges.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.