The suspect in the mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado had a tumultuous upbringing, bullied as a teenager and raised for a time by his grandmother, according to a portrait of the would-be gunman compiled by CNN.
According to court records and an interview with a family member, Anderson Lee Aldrich ended up in his grandmother’s care when his mother struggled with a series of arrests and related mental health evaluations.
The suspect’s grandmother, described by a relative as his primary caregiver, declined to be interviewed by CNN.
Aldrich’s relationship with his mother proved rocky last year when she called the police on her son and said he threatened to hurt her with a homemade bomb and other weapons.
No charges were filed and the case has since been sealed, leaving unanswered questions about how Aldrich avoided prosecution in the case, which could ultimately bar him from legally possessing a gun if convicted.
A little more than a year after the bomb threat incident, Aldrich allegedly opened fire on the Q Club in Colorado Springs, killing five people and injuring more than a dozen. Aldrich, 22, faces five counts of first-degree murder and five counts of bias crime resulting in bodily injury, according to an online El Paso District Court docket. The 6’4″, 260-pound suspect was hospitalized for undisclosed injuries after being tackled by clubgoers during the attack.
Born Nicholas Brink in May 2000, Aldrich is the son of Laura Voepel and Aaron Brink, who were married in 1999. Neither parent could be reached for comment. His father filed for divorce in September 2001 in Orange County, California, citing irreconcilable differences. In his original petition, he requested legal custody and visitation rights, but asked the court to grant Voepel full physical custody. Voepel stated in a 2007 filing that her son had no contact with his father.
According to court documents, interviews and an entertainment website, Aldrich’s father was a mixed martial artist and porn actor who spent time in federal prison for illegally importing marijuana.
About a year before Aldrich was born, Brink pleaded guilty in 1999 to a misdemeanor charge of domestic battery and received probation, according to San Diego County Superior Court. Federal court documents say the victim in that case was Voepel, who was described as his girlfriend.
Voepel, the daughter of California Assemblyman Randy Voepel, was granted sole legal and physical custody of her son in 2007. In May of that year, Voepel announced in court documents that she was unemployed and engaged to have a baby on the way. Aldrich, who was six years old at the time.
In 2009, Aldrich’s mother received three years of probation for convictions for public intoxication and falsely reporting a crime to police. The false report conviction stems from a 2008 incident in Murrieta, California, when police responded to a home invasion and found Voepel lying on a bed with his hands and feet bound in duct tape. Voepel initially told police that the man had put a rope around her neck, tied her with tape and put a knife to her chest. But the next day, she admitted that she was under the influence of drugs and had fabricated the incident because “she was lonely and wanted attention,” according to the police report.
According to court records obtained by CNN, Voepel underwent court-ordered mental health treatment in Riverside County, Calif., in 2010 stemming from those cases.
Records show that Voepel sought custody of her then 10-year-old son, the age Aldrich would have been at the time. A later filing stated that Voepel said her son had started living with her and that she planned to seek medical, welfare and food stamp assistance.
It was unclear what periods of time Aldrich lived with her grandmother, who maintained residences in the same neighborhoods as her daughter and grandson in California, Texas and Colorado, according to public records.
While in Texas, Aldrich’s mother continued to struggle with the law and mental health issues. A relative, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity, described Voepel as “sweet” but also having a “tumultuous life.”
In 2012, she allegedly used a lighter to start a fire in her room at Baptist Medical Center in San Antonio, according to a police report. Voepel, who was rescued by a hospital worker, initially denied starting the fire, but security cameras showed she was alone in her room when the fire started, according to a police report.
A licensed psychologist concluded she suffered from severe borderline personality disorder and alcohol addiction, among other issues, records show. She was initially charged with arson, but in August 2013, she pleaded no contest to a felony reduction, according to court documents. She was sentenced to five years of community supervision.
After his mom’s struggles, Aldrich apparently had problems with at least some of his peers. In 2015, he was posted on an online bullying page on a parody site. The Wikipedia-like site features photos of Aldrich as a teenager and uses offensive profanity to mock his weight and accuse him of wrongdoing.
The site mocked Aldrich’s grandmother’s apparent attempt to raise money for him to go to Japan with his classmates. A screenshot of the fundraising appeal reads: “Make a dream come true for a young man who has endured many bad knocks in his young life.” The fundraising goal was not met, the record shows.
The revision history of the page shows that in 2015, the records related to him were updated several times within five months. The page, first reported by the Washington Post, remains active.
Later that year, just before his 16th birthday, the teenager legally changed his name from Nicholas F. Brink to Anderson Lee Aldrich. No reason was given for the name change, which was also first reported by The Post.
Aldrich later moved to Colorado Springs, where he lived with his grandmother. His mother lived in a rented room in a nearby house. Last year, Aldrich live-streamed video from his mother’s Facebook page purportedly showing him at the home in a standoff with police over a possible bomb threat.
Leslie Bowman, who owns the house where the altercation took place and where Aldrich’s mother was renting a room, said she screen-recorded the video, which has since been deleted, and gave it to CNN.
The short video shows a few seconds of a distraught young man, identified by Bowman as Aldrich, wearing a helmet and some type of body armor and challenging law enforcement to break into the home he had entered.
He ends the video with what appears to be a message to law enforcement outside: “So go ahead guys! Let’s see it!”
The video doesn’t actually show any officers outside the home, and it’s unclear if Aldrich had any weapons.
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release at the time that Aldrich had threatened to harm his mother “with a homemade bomb, multiple guns and ammunition” and that several nearby homes had been evacuated.
Aldrich later surrendered to sheriff’s deputies, which was seen in other video footage previously reported by CNN. The sheriff’s office said no explosives were found in the home.
It’s unclear at this time how the bomb threat case was resolved, but the Colorado Springs Gazette reported that the district attorney’s office said no formal charges have been filed in the case. The district attorney’s office did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the suspect has been charged with first-degree murder and a bias-motivated crime.