The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

LGBTQ club shooting suspect’s troubled past was obscured by a name change, records show

After suffering online bullying as a boy, Anderson Lee Aldrich altered his identity, documents confirm

Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez gives an update on the Club Q shooting investigation on Monday. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Years before he allegedly walked into a Colorado LGBTQ bar with an assault-style rifle, the man now known as Anderson Lee Aldrich had a different name, and a tumultuous past.

Until age 15, he was known as Nicholas Brink, living in San Antonio, public records show. His parents separated when he was a toddler, and when he was 12, his mother, Laura Voepel, was arrested for suspected arson, according to court documents. She was later found guilty of a lesser offense in connection with the same incident.

At age 15, he became the target of a particularly vicious bout of online bullying in which insulting accusations were posted to a website, along with his name, photos and online aliases, according to a review of the site by The Washington Post. At some point, a YouTube account was created under his name, featuring a crude, profanity-laden animation under the title, “Asian homosexual gets molested.”

For unstated reasons, just before his 16th birthday, the young man petitioned a Texas court — with two of his grandparents’ names on the document — to legally change his entire name. His mother’s name did not appear on the petition.

Nicholas F. Brink became Anderson Lee Aldrich, who, at age 22, would gain infamy as the suspected shooter accused of killing at least five people and wounding 18 others inside the Colorado Springs bar known as Club Q. The reasons behind the choice of the new name were unclear.

Whether the events of Aldrich’s childhood had any bearing on Saturday’s horrific violence is unknown. But Aldrich’s earlier existence as Nicholas Brink, reported for the first time, offers possible answers to several key mysteries surrounding the suspected gunman. Public records and databases were oddly silent about Aldrich for the first two decades of his life.

In June 2021, Aldrich was arrested for an alleged bomb threat, one that prompted a partial evacuation of the Colorado Springs neighborhood where his mother lived at the time. He was charged with kidnapping and felony menacing, but was never prosecuted, for reasons that remain unclear. No bomb was ever found.

Despite his run-in with the law, some 17 months later, Aldrich was in possession of at least one weapon, a long gun, which he allegedly used in targeting customers and employees inside a nightclub long seen as a safe haven for the city’s gay and lesbian communities.

How the Colorado mass shooting unfolded — and ended — inside Club Q

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints confirmed in a statement to The Post that the alleged shooter was on the membership rolls of the church but had not been active in the Colorado Springs locations to the best of their knowledge.

The church, which until 2019 described people in same-sex marriages as “apostates,” condemned the shooting in a statement: “The senseless act of violence in Colorado Springs is of great sadness and concern to us. We are greatly troubled by any violence in our communities and condemn most especially violent acts that are the result of intolerance against any of God’s children.”

The mayor of Colorado Springs had said the shooting had “the trappings of a hate crime.” Asked Monday if the federal authorities would bring hate crime charges, Cole Finegan, the U.S. attorney for Colorado, said the Justice Department was “looking at all aspects of this case.”

Until now, no formal charges have been filed, and police remained tight-lipped about key details of the case. On Monday, Michael J. Allen, the district attorney for the area that includes Colorado Springs, said that Aldrich was likely to face murder and “bias-motivated” charges in connection with his arrest. Allen said formal charges were forthcoming.

Speaking at a news conference, Allen said records from the Club Q case had been placed under seal. His office had requested they be sealed, saying in a filing Monday morning that releasing them “could jeopardize” the prosecution.

Aldrich remained hospitalized Monday, and authorities declined to discuss his medical condition. Allen declined to say whether Aldrich had spoken with law enforcement. Officials have also declined to shed any light on when, how, or where, Aldrich obtained his weapon.

Allen noted that in Colorado, the charges connected with killing people at the club “will likely carry life in prison without parole,” so the bias-related charges would not “elevate the potential sentence.”

It is “important to let the community know that we do not tolerate bias-motivated crimes in this community,” he said.

Colorado Springs authorities said Nov. 21 that they are still investigating the motive, but they "do not tolerate bias-motivated crimes" in their community. (Video: The Washington Post)

City officials said the toll from the shooting could have been far worse. Republican Mayor John Suthers said in an interview that at least one club patron disarmed the gunman during the attack by grabbing his weapon and hitting him in the head with it. “In fact,” Suthers said, “there was a patron on top of the gunman.”

Suthers and other officials deflected questions about whether Aldrich’s 2021 arrest could have led to a legal action, perhaps under Colorado’s 2019 red-flag law, to prevent the suspect from obtaining a weapon.

“Law enforcement agencies in appropriate circumstances should take advantage of it,” Suthers said of the law. “Hopefully there will be a time when there can be a specific discussion about any prior interaction with law enforcement.”

In 2019, Colorado’s legislature passed a red-flag law, which gave citizens and police departments the ability to petition a judge to have a Colorado resident’s weapons confiscated if the petitioner demonstrates that person is a danger to themselves or others.

Remembering the Colorado Springs shooting victims

New details about Aldrich’s 2021 incident emerged on Monday, shedding light on his disturbing behavior at the time. A video obtained by CNN appeared to show moments from a standoff between Aldrich and sheriff’s deputies who responded to reports of a bomb threat.

According to CNN, Leslie Bowman, the owner of the home where the standoff occurred, made a copy of the video before it was removed from social-media platforms. Screenshots from the video depict a visibly agitated young man wearing a helmet and what appeared to be body armor. The video shown by CNN shows the young man — identified by Bowman as Aldrich — daring law-enforcement officials to breach the house. It is not clear from the video if a bomb or weapons were present.

Little is known about what led to the confrontation. But records from Aldrich’s past as Nicholas Brink offer some insight into his formative years.

Brink was born in 2000 as the only son of Aaron and Laura (nee Voepel) Brink, of Orange, Calif., and a year later, in July 2001, the couple separated. Their divorce was finalized in September 2001, court records showed. Laura gained full custody of the toddler, along with an order forbidding any contact between father and son. In following years, she moved with her baby to Texas, living at times with the boy’s maternal grandmother.

Brink’s maternal grandfather is state Rep. Randy Voepel, a Republican assemblyman who in the past has aligned himself with the tea party movement and spoken in favor of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Voepel lost his seat in November after a redistricting change.

The family was living in San Antonio at the time of Laura Voepel’s arrest on arson-related charges in 2012. The case wound its way through a Texas court for several years, and according to court records, the defendant was ordered to undergo psychological evaluations and mandatory drug testing. Her trial resulted in the dismissal of the arson charge but she was found guilty on a lesser charge of criminal mischief.

The YouTube account under Brink’s name was opened in 2010, with a note to viewers of the channel that read, “wazzap guys, please help and subscribe.” The crude animation with the “Asian homosexual” label was added in 2012. The video received more than 300 views.

The online bullying incident that targeted Brink included photos of the then-15-year-old youth posted to a Wikipedia-like website, along with a fictitious biography riddled with insults and ridicule.

Months later, on April 28, 2016, a petition was filed in a Bexar County, Tex., court requesting a legal name change for the young man. The formal order, issued a week later, appeared under the simple heading: “Nicholas F. Brink to Anderson L. Aldrich.”

Klemko reported from Colorado Springs. Mark Berman and Hannah Allam contributed to this report.

Mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado

What we know: The suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, will be formally charged at a hearing today. Aldrich is accused of fatally shooting five people and wounding 17 others at a Colorado Springs night club last month. Records show that Aldrich changed his name at age 15, obscuring a tumultuous past.

Remembering the victims: Officials on Monday identified the five victims killed in the Colorado Springs shooting. Their names are Daniel Aston, Raymond Green Vance, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh and Derrick Rump. Here’s how to help family members of the victims and survivors of the Club Q shooting.

Stopping the shooter: An Army veteran who was at the nightclub to celebrate a friend’s birthday with his family disarmed and subdued the gunman. Here’s how the Club Q shooting unfolded.