In a new turn of events, the story behind the November 19, 2022 Club Q shootings that left five dead and 25 injured is becoming increasingly complicated. Now, an El Paso County judge unsealed a prior criminal case filed last year against the’ suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich. The 2021 case of a bomb threat that led to Aldrich’s arrest was eventually dismissed after family members refused to collaborate with the court process. However, the newly released documents reveal the suspect’s possible propensity to violence, as well as a potential interest in making 3D printed guns.
November Lone-shooter Attack
Following the recent attack at the LGBTQ+ bar Club Q in Colorado Springs, Aldrich is facing 305 counts, including first-degree murder, hate crimes, and assault, and could be sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. According to local police reports, after allegedly entering the establishment, Aldrich indiscriminately opened fire with a semi-automatic AR-15-style long rifle. As seen in the security-camera footage from the club’s owners, the shooter had as many as six magazines of ammunition, but was subdued by customers inside the club.
After being taken into custody, the 22-year-old suspect – whose lawyer now claims identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns – was immediately linked to the 2021 arrest of a man with the same name and age. However, at the time, officials declined to answer any questions from reporters about their previous interactions with law enforcement. The incident of a son threatening to harm his mother with a homemade bomb, multiple weapons, and ammunition was particularly resonant in the media. Talk of previous charges raised questions as to whether Colorado’s red-flag law – which went into effect in 2019 and is meant to allow the temporary removal of firearms from a person if they are deemed to be an “extreme risk” to themselves or others – could have prevented the Club Q shooting.
Although Aldrich’s 2021 case was sealed after the charges were dismissed, all the speculation surrounding the case and a request from El Paso County prosecutors and over 35 media organizations led to their release.
A History of Violence
Among the most striking details of the unsealed documents is the testimony of Aldrich’s grandmother Pamela Pullen. According to her affidavit, the alleged shooter’s level of violence had escalated. Pullen also reportedly told officials that not only was she scared that they were making a bomb in her basement, but she claimed Aldrich threatened to blow up her home and become “the next mass killer.” Pullen even says that they “bragged about wanting to ‘go out in a blaze.’”
Another relevant court filing that has now come to light is a letter written by Aldrich’s great-uncle, Robert Pullen. In the document, addressed to County judge Robin Chittum and asking for Aldrich’s incarceration, the family member reveals that Pamela Pullen had given Aldrich $30,000 after their arrest to purchase two 3D printers, “on which he was making guns.” Apparently, only one of the 3D printers had been used by Aldrich, while the other arrived at the house after they were arrested and was returned.
Lacking a serial number, handmade firearms, better known as ghost guns, are legal in Colorado, except in Denver, where the city council voted to ban them in early 2022. Usually pieced together at home, these unserialized weapons include 3D printed guns that use CAD files available online.
Warnings over a growing threat of 3D firearms and mass shootings led the Biden Administration to crack down on ghost guns. In August, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) created new regulations like qualifying ghost gun kits as “firearms” or running background checks before selling parts kits that could be used to assemble firearms. The rule also requires that gun retailers and gunsmiths add a serial number to 3D printed guns or any nonserialized firearms they accept for resale or purchase.
Breaking the law
Aldrich’s mother and grandparents – the alleged victims in the 2021 case – were the ones who called 911, which led to Aldrich’s arrest for allegedly holding them hostage in a basement under a bomb threat. This led to the evacuation of ten neighboring homes and the intervention of a SWAT team. Nevertheless, the felony charges against Aldrich were dismissed just four months before the Club Q shooting.
Furthermore, law enforcement officials seized two guns from Aldrich after the incident, including a 9 mm ghost gun with a Glock frame and a 5.56 mm AR-15 rifle. During a press conference held last week by the DA office, District Attorney Michael Allen said the guns were never returned and are still in police custody. He also stressed that the 2021 case had been dismissed after the prosecutor’s office failed to deliver the subpoenas to the witnesses, who recanted.
“Without the victims’ testimony, the prosecutor couldn’t move forward with the case. Without them [the victims] taking the stand, there is no way a presocuter could convict the perpetrator,” indicated Allen. “The only way they could have prevented the tragedy was if the victims would have presented themselves in court, otherwise, nothing else would have prevented the Club Q case from happening.”
Nonetheless, in the aftermath of the Club Q shooting and in light of the revelations from the unsealed document, many are left wondering whether authorities could have seized the suspect’s weapons and ammunition under Colorado’s red flag law. After all, it seems that despite the terrifying events of 2021, there is no public record that police or relatives triggered it. Even though County Sheriff Bill Elder told ABC News that it is unclear whether this law would have stopped the suspect from targeting the club, others, like Colorado Governor Jared Polis, consider more changes to strengthen red flag law are needed.
It’s also worth noting that it is based on victim testimony and the recovery of ghost guns that the media has reported Aldrich’s 3D printing of firearms. However, because we don’t so far know that Aldrich had successfully 3D printed any weapons, it would be irresponsible to conflate the purchase of two 3D printers with the 3D printing of guns. If they did, in fact, have ghost guns and are found guilty of the shooting, it could be argued that they found easier access to more functional weaponry that were not made with 3D printing. Despite all of this, media outlets that are less immersed in the additive manufacturing (AM) industry will be more likely to link more accessible 3D printers with guns and violence.