An unsealed case file shows the Club Q attack suspect wanted to be “the next mass killer” and made a bomb threat in June 2021, but prosecutors reached a dead end with the investigation.
Prosecutors couldn’t move forward because suspect Anderson Lee Aldrich’s family refused to testify against him, District Attorney Michael Allen said, and a judge dismissed the felony kidnapping and menacing case.
These new details came to light as the 4th Judicial District Court and El Paso County’s Sheriff’s Office unsealed the case and related records on Dec. 7.
The 200+ pages of records, which were sealed in August due to Colorado laws around sealing dismissed cases, reveal that Aldrich’s mother and grandparents dodged subpoenas, Allen said during a Dec. 8 press conference. Laura Voepel, Aldrich’s mother, and grandparents Pamela and Jonathan Pullen were the victims of the 2021 threats Aldrich made in the Lorson Ranch neighborhood.
Family members were served with several subpoenas to testify as witnesses in the case earlier this year, while the Pullens were living in Florida, the records show. But Allen said that personal subpoena services — that is, actually handing a paper subpoena to a witness called to court — were “unsuccessful.”
Pamela Pullen once requested the court quash a “foreign subpoena left in her mailbox or front door but not given to anyone in the house and certainly not to Mrs. Pullen,” which she claimed was “improperly served,” according to court records.
Aldrich’s defense team also apparently struggled to get in contact with Aldrich’s family to serve subpoenas, and commented that there was “no likelihood these people are going to be showing up” and, “these witnesses have basically been avoiding everyone,” according to Allen.
By July 2022, prosecutors were facing a 6-month, “speedy trial” period to get the case to trial, because Aldrich had entered a not guilty plea, Allen said. And because they could not get adequate witness testimony, a judge “appropriately” dismissed the case, he said.
About three months after those case records were sealed, Aldrich allegedly entered Club Q with two firearms and immediately opened fire indiscriminately, killing five people and injuring 22, according to an arrest affidavit which was also unsealed earlier this week. Aldrich faces a combined 305 counts of murder, assault and bias-motivated crime charges.
The Nov. 19 attack has devastated the Colorado Springs LGBTQ+ community and city residents in general, and questions immediately arose over whether the DA or Sheriff could have done more to prevent Aldrich from acquiring firearms, given the suspect’s arrest record. Community members questioned whether an Extreme Risk Protection Order could have been initiated to stop Aldrich from owning guns.
Allen, for his part, claims his office did everything it could to prosecute the case.
“In every case where you have trouble getting the actual witnesses — the listed victims — into court, you have to make judgment calls,” he said. “In this case, obviously, the prosecutor was not able to go forward without those victims, because those statements that they made, those concerning statements that have been widely covered, … are being made by the grandmother and the mother.
“Without those people actually taking the stand and testifying to those statements, there’s no way that you would convict [Aldrich] on the kidnapping and menacing charges,” Allen said.
Allen said during the Dec. 8 press conference that the weapons and bomb-making materials seized during Aldrich’s 2021 arrest still to this day remain in EPSO evidence, suggesting Aldrich got other firearms to allegedly carry out the Club Q attack.
One of the guns in evidence, a pistol, was logged by EPSO as a “ghost gun,” which is an untraceable firearm that does not have a serial number, Allen said. Ghost guns are legal to own and make (most commonly done so by ordering parts online or making them with a 3D-printer), but they are illegal to sell without a serial number and dealer’s license.
(Allen and CSPD have thus far declined to say whether the firearms used in the Club Q attack were ghost guns, citing the pending investigation and criminal case. The arrest affidavit from the attack describes a handgun and “AR-15 style assault rifle” were used in Club Q).
The court had also initiated a Mandatory Protection Order against Aldrich for the 2021 arrest, which goes ahead automatically with felony charges and aims to prevent the accused from legally obtaining firearms via a question asked during a licensed gun dealer’s background check, Allen said.
This type of order, he said, is more durable than those available via the red flag law. Those extended orders, ERPOs, if issued once without any further extensions by a judge, last up to 364 days. The Mandatory Protection Order against Aldrich lasted for 383 days, until the 2021 felony charges were dropped, Allen said.
“Even an Extreme Risk Protection Order would not have prevented the Club Q shooting,” Allen said — although theoretically, another agency could have initiated the process for an ERPO after the case was dropped. (DAs do not have the ability to do this).
However, Allen doubts that Aldrich’s family would have cooperated in mandatory hearings for ERPOs, either, and EPSO claims too much time had passed since the arrest for its office to seek one. More on that later.
A family’s abuse and silence
The unsealed records also reveal details about Aldrich’s troubled childhood and home life, with reports from an uncle that Aldrich repeatedly physically abused and threatened the Pullens, with whom the suspect lived in Colorado Springs.
The uncle, Robert Pullen, Jr., wrote a letter to District Court Judge Robin Chittum in November 2021 that detailed his knowledge of Aldrich’s violence against their grandparents. On multiple occasions, the grandparents declined to involve police, sometimes in fear that Aldrich might hurt them, according to Robert Pullen.
The letter also said Pam Pullen gave Aldrich $30,000, with which he purchased two 3D printers to make guns. One of the printers “arrived at the house after his arrest and was returned,” the letter said.
The full letter can be found here.
Jonathan Pullen, Pam Pullen and Voepel also vouched for Aldrich when a judge was considering whether to reduce his bond from $1 million to $100,000 in August 2021, after Aldrich was booked to jail for the bomb threat, DA Allen said during the Dec. 8 press conference.
“His mother at that hearing described him as loving and passionate,” Allen said. “His grandmother described him as a sweet young man and [said] that he did not deserve to be in jail. The grandfather described him as unusually bright and someone who will take advantage of a second chance.”
Kristy Boots, a crime victim advocate in the Springs community who was brought in by Allen to explain the reasons for victim recantations, said it’s a common phenomenon, especially in family violence cases. (Boots did not speak specifically to Aldrich’s family, but to family violence in general).
“There’s many reasons why a crime victim may recant, but in my experience, the most common are love, fear and guilt,” Boots said. “They love the perpetrator, and they believe that they’ll change. Often they want the relationship to continue, but that violent act to stop.
“Often, victims of crime are fearful of the perpetrator,” she said. “They’re fearful of threats, fearful of future violence. It is likely that the perpetrator has carried out previous threats, and the victim believes that it will be the same in the future.”
DA and Sheriff blast media for coverage
When Aldrich’s 2021 arrest records became unsealed, Allen and EPSO took the opportunity to criticize the media for coverage of the arrest last year and accusations floated after the Club Q shooting that officials could have prevented the attack through an ERPO.
A Dec. 8 release from EPSO complained that it was agitated by the flood of “questions, comments, criticisms, and condemnations” that came into its office after media learned Aldrich was arrested by its deputies last year, despite Allen and EPSO saying they could not discuss the previously sealed 2021 case.
“…rumors, false allegations, and incendiary accusations have reached a crescendo that ignorantly denigrated our actions surrounding our arrest of Aldrich in the summer of 2021 despite our repeated reminders to the media, our community members, and politicians that state law strictly prohibited any comment being made by us regarding that previous involvement,” the release said.
“Even more recently local, state, and national politicians and other prominent voices have taken these baseless attacks to the next level and have begun to imply this shooting occurred because the EPSO failed to apply for an [ERPO] against Aldrich and did not seize his firearms.”
EPSO could not have reasonably done this, they claim, because by the time the Mandatory Protection Order that already prevented Aldrich from legally buying guns had been lifted, the 2021 arrest records were sealed and the case “was too old to be effective in court because there was no new evidence that a threat could be articulated as existing ‘in the near future’ as was required to prove to obtain an ERPO.”
“We certainly recognize that the void of accurate information regarding the EPSO’s previous involvement with Aldrich brought about by the court’s prior sealing of that record created an information vacuum within which such falsehoods could fester,” the release said.
The release also includes the 2021 arrest and case timeline from EPSO’s point of view, and can be read in full here.
At the end of the day, Allen believes the case calls for an examination of Colorado’s existing red flag laws and regulations for ghost guns. In response to a question about whether DAs should be added to the list of people who could initiate ERPOs, Allen said, “I’m certainly up to engaging in discussion and potentially modifying that legislation to make it appropriately fit certain situations.”
Of ghost guns, he said, “It’s a hard area to regulate. There are plenty of websites that you can go and buy parts of guns that don’t have serial numbers on them. There’s got to be a way to somehow regulate that better.
“But you also have to talk about and be cognizant of people’s constitutional rights,” Allen said.