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COLORADO SPRINGS —An El Paso County judge dismissed a 2021 case against Anderson Lee Aldrich in which Aldrich threatened to become the “next mass killer” after prosecutors were unable to serve subpoenas on witnesses, namely the suspect’s mother and grandparents, 4th Judicial District Attorney Michael Allen said Thursday.

Allen told reporters during a news conference in Colorado Springs that Aldrich’s grandparents, who live in Florida, refused to cooperate with investigators and defense attorneys in the 2021 case.

Charges were dismissed by the court on July 5 after prosecutors requested a trial delay so they could try again to subpoena the grandparents to testify.

“This office absolutely prosecuted it,” Allen said of the 2021 case. “We prosecuted it until we couldn’t prosecute it any longer. … We did everything we could have done on that case.”

Allen on Thursday afternoon discussed the 2021 arrest publicly for the first time after a judge earlier in the day ordered the case unsealed, allowing authorities to answer questions as to why charges against Aldrich were dropped.

4th Judicial District Attorney Michael Allen speaks to members of the media Dec. 6, 2022, in Colorado Springs. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

On Nov. 19, just over four months after a judge dismissed the case, Aldrich allegedly opened fire inside Club Q, an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing five people and injuring dozens more. 

“I’m loaded and ready,” Aldrich allegedly said

The document unsealed Thursday alleges that Aldrich was arrested in El Paso County in June 2021 after loading bullets into a Glock pistol and warning their frightened grandparents not to interfere with an elaborate plan to stockpile guns, ammo, body armor and a homemade bomb and commit mass violence.

“You guys die today and I’m taking you with me,” Aldrich allegedly said, the document shows. “I’m loaded and ready.”

In the living room of their grandparents’ El Paso County home, Aldrich allegedly held their grandparents hostage and showed them a box filled with chemicals, claiming it was powerful enough to blow up a police department and a federal building, the affidavit said. 

Aldrich’s grandparents begged for their lives as their grandchild made violent threats and chugged vodka. As Aldrich left the room, their grandparents raced to their car and called 9-1-1. 

When a sheriff’s deputy contacted Aldrich’s mother, she was “not cooperative,” the affidavit said, and did not want to answer any questions about Aldrich.

A SWAT officer confronted Aldrich at their mother’s home nearby, and Aldrich made more threats, claiming to be in possession of a gas mask and armor piercing rounds and saying they were “ready to go to the end,” the affidavit said. As officers surrounded the home, Anderson threatened to shoot through the walls and told one officer over the phone that he was going to die. 

A deputy ordered a search of Aldrich’s grandparents’ home to find a “homemade bomb, along with ammunition, firearms and body armor to prevent a reported terrorism attack.” In the basement, they found bomb-making materials, according to the affidavit. 

A judge set “an elevated bond,” at request of a sheriff’s deputy, based on Aldrich’s “homicidal statements, actions, possessions of firearms and bomb-making materials,” the affidavit said.

Anderson was formally charged in the 2021 case with first-degree kidnapping and two counts of felony menacing. Allen said authorities seized two guns from Aldrich as part of the 2021 arrest: a pistol without a serial number, called a “ghost gun,” and an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle.

Allen said both weapons were never returned to Anderson, despite the suspect’s efforts to get them back from an evidence hold.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys made several attempts to issue subpoenas to the witnesses in the case, who were Anderson’s mother and grandparents who had moved out of the state, but were unsuccessful, the district attorney said. 

Repeated attempts to serve subpoenas failed

Defense attorneys noted the prosecution’s “valiant efforts” to get the witnesses in the courtroom, but said there was “no likelihood these people are going to be showing up” and that “these witnesses have basically been avoiding everyone,” Allen said. 

Aldrich’s grandmother, Pamela Pullen, went so far as to try to quash a subpoena through a motion submitted by her attorney on June 30, court records show.

During an August 2021 hearing set to lower the suspect’s bond, Aldrich’s mother described her child as a “loving and passionate young man” and Aldrich’s grandmother said Aldrich didn’t deserve to be in jail, Allen said. Aldrich’s grandfather told the court Aldrich would “take advantage of a second chance.” 

MORE: Timeline of dismissed 2021 case against Club Q shooting suspect, who threatened to become “next mass killer”

Aldrich was released from jail on a lowered bond after the suspect agreed to live with their mother, attended an in-patient program and went to therapy. Aldrich pleaded not guilty in January.

In July, three weeks before the deadline for a speedy trial, defense attorneys rejected prosecutors’ request for more time to gather witness statements and requested the case be dismissed.

“If witnesses cannot be produced at a trial and we are against speedy trial, it is very common for a court to dismiss a case. The court did not act inappropriately in that regard,” Allen said.

Aldrich used a 3-D printer to make guns, great uncle claimed

As part of the 2021 case, Aldrich’s great uncle, the brother of Aldrich’s grandfather, submitted a letter to the court claiming Aldrich had terrorized his grandparents for years. The letter claimed Aldrich had attacked his grandfather in the past and was using 3-D printers to make guns.

“We feel certain that if Anderson is freed that he will hurt or murder my brother and his wife,” wrote Robert Pullen.

After the charges were dismissed, Aldrich, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, petitioned for the case to be sealed, a request that was granted.

The contents of the 2021 affidavit were previously reported by The Associated Press and KKTV in Colorado Springs. The two news outlets obtained a copy of the sealed document before Chittum lifted the seal. The document was posted to a publicly accessible state court website Thursday afternoon.

Judge cites “profound” public interest in release of sealed document

In ordering the affidavit from the 2021 arrest released, El Paso County District Judge Robin Chittum ruled the public has a pressing interest in learning more about how authorities and the courts handled the June 2021 case — a central question in the wake of the Nov. 19 massacre at Club Q. 

“The public’s interest is so significant, I think I would call it profound,” Chittum said.  

Court records show that Chittum is also the judge who dismissed Aldrich’s case in 2021. She did not address the case dismissal at the hearing Thursday.

Aldrich was formally charged Wednesday with 305 counts in the Club Q shooting, including first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, first-degree assault and hate crime charges. 

Among the questions posed after the shooting was why authorities, namely the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, did not ask a judge to order the temporary seizure of Aldrich’s firearms under Colorado’s red flag law

The law, which went into effect in January 2020, was designed as a way for law enforcement and family measures to try to remove guns from anyone deemed a significant risk to themselves or others through an extreme risk protection order. Victims told The Associated Press that the shooting was preventable if law enforcement had acted upon the red flag law.

“It makes no sense,” Jerrecho Loveall, who was shot in the leg at Club Q, told The AP. “If they would have taken this more seriously and done their job, the lives we lost, the injuries we sustained and the trauma this community has faced would not have happened.” 

DA Michael Allen says he doubts red flag law could have stopped attack

Allen said Aldrich was barred from purchasing weapons until the 2021 case was dismissed because a mandatory protection order was issued, as is typical in felony cases. He argued that since Aldrich’s family members were unwilling to testify in the 2021 case, it’s unlikely that after the case was dismissed the suspect’s family would have petitioned a judge to order Aldrich’s firearms seized and to prevent the suspect from purchasing more weapons.

Allen said he also doubts law enforcement, specifically the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, would have successfully been able to secure a seizure order given the family’s decision not to cooperate.

“I don’t think, based on the conduct of the witnesses in this case, that they would have been successful on that,” Allen said.

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has never initiated a red flag gun seizure.

Sheriff Bill Elder defends office

On Thursday afternoon, the sheriff’s office released a lengthy written statement defending how it handled the 2021 case. The office argued that the sealing of the 2021 case “meant that our ability to even present a factual basis for a potential extreme risk protection order request at that point was no longer available because the case in which those facts were detailed had been sealed.”

Allen went so far as to argue that Aldrich being convicted in the 2021 case “is really the only thing that could have stopped” the Club Q shooting.

The district attorney called on legislators to amend state law to allow for “an immediate unsealing” of prior court records if a suspect is accused of committing another serious crime. If prosecutors request the unsealing, the court should be required to respond within 24 hours, he said.

“When a devastating crime is committed, the citizens of this great state should have the ability to learn what happened in private instances, including even in dismissed cases,” Allen said. “The search for truth requires that.” 

The Colorado Sun was among several media outlets that petitioned the court to release the 2021 arrest affidavit. 

Aldrich’s attorneys objected to the public release of the document, saying its disclosure could harm their client’s chances at a fair trial in the Club Q shooting case. The defense team also asked the judge to investigate who leaked the sealed document to the media before the judge ruled that it be unsealed.

Judge considers probe into who leaked sealed court document

Chittum said she would review a request for contempt of court proceedings surrounding the document’s release at a later date. 

People who leak sealed court documents can face criminal charges. An Adams County paralegal was charged with a crime in 2020 after leaking a sealed document in the killing of 11-year-old Gannon Stauch in Colorado Springs. The paralegal avoided jail time under a plea bargain, and was instead ordered to pay a fine, records show.

Laura Voepel, Aldrich’s mother, attended Thursday’s hearing via video uplink. She also objected to the unsealing of the document, her attorney Carrie Thompson said, arguing that Voepel would be at risk of retaliation and victimization upon its release. 

Aldrich, wearing a lime-green shirt and gray pants, attended Thursday’s hearing. The suspect did not speak, hobbling across a courtroom with legs shackled to sit next to their attorneys.

The defendant is jailed without bond and is next due in court Feb. 22 before District Judge Michael McHenry, for a preliminary hearing where testimony about the attacks is expected to last up to three days.

Olivia Prentzel

Olivia Prentzel is a general assignment writer for The Colorado Sun. Email: oliviaprentzel@coloradosun.com

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