Scripps News fought to obtain video of the June 2021 incident that unfolded in a neighborhood outside of Colorado Springs in hopes of giving the public a clearer understanding of what happened between the person who would go on to kill five people at Club Q.
Criminal charges filed after the troubling incident were not enough to stop Anderson Aldrich from carrying out the mass shooting at the LGBTQ nightclub in November 2022. Aldrich pleaded guilty to the mass shooting and was sentenced to life in prison.
What’s on the video
Deputies responded to the 2021 scene after the suspect’s grandmother, Pam Pullen, called 911 to report that her grandchild, Aldrich, who was 21 at the time, had been “putting stuff together to make a huge bomb” with plans to “go out in a blaze” and kill the family.
Pullen said she escaped from the house by lying to Aldrich.
When law enforcement officers arrived, footage from El Paso County sheriff’s deputy Bethany Gibson’s body camera shows the deputy sitting in a sheriff’s vehicle, near the scene, contacting the grandmother again on her phone to gather more information.
“He pretty much went nuts,” Pullen could be heard saying through the deputy’s speakerphone. “He ran down and got his guns, came up and loaded ‘em and had ‘em aimed at us and told us, ‘The fight starts now, and this ends today. And you guys are going with me. We’re all going to die together.' And he literally proceeded to then run back down the stairs and bring up a box that was very, very heavy and open it and show us the contents, and all we could see was a bunch of chemicals arranged in it. And I have no clue what it is, but he said, ‘This is enough to ... to take out a federal building (and) an entire police department,’ and he went on and on, and he said, ‘I am loaded and ready,’ she told the deputy.
“Did he prevent you guys from leaving?” Gibson asked. “At first, yes, absolutely,” said Pullen.
The suspect’s mother
As SWAT officers assembled their tactical gear and blocked off parts of the residential neighborhood, the suspect’s mother, Laura Voepel, could be seen approaching a deputy after running out of the home where Aldrich was allegedly making threats.
“I’m fine ... He’s not going to hurt me,” she said as deputies attempted to escort her to the back of a sheriff’s vehicle. “What do you guys think he’s going to do? ... Why don’t you just talk to him?” she begged.
Voepel protested getting into the sheriff’s vehicle until officers threatened to handcuff and arrest her for obstructing them.
“I can’t leave him. I can’t!” she said repeatedly. She said she was worried Aldrich would die.
Deputy Seth Fritsche eventually drove Voepel to an alternate location to reunite with family members. When he parked, Voepel got out of the vehicle and warned the deputy that several people could be killed if deputies were to breach the home where Aldrich was located.
“You need to evacuate this block is what you need to do. Do you understand what I’m saying?” she pleaded. “You need to evacuate the neighbors. He’s got a lot of stuff in there, do you understand?”
Scripps News could not reach Voepel or Pullen for comment.
The criminal charges
Although the district attorney's office charged Aldrich with felony menacing and kidnapping, a judge ultimately dismissed the case when the victims could not be subpoenaed to testify and the defendant’s right to a speedy trial was placed in jeopardy.
According to Ian Farrell, a University of Denver associate law professor, the district attorney would not have been able to rely on the family’s statements that were recorded on body camera and in 911 calls because a defendant has a right to confront his accusers.
“The prosecution always has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that all of the elements of the offense were committed, and so you need evidence for that. And often, that evidence will be the testimony of, say, a victim,” said Farrell.
“If the victim is for some reason reluctant to testify, for example, because it’s a loved one, it can be therefore very challenging for the prosecution to demonstrate that all of the elements of the offense have been committed ... the less cooperative they are, the harder it will be to then convince the jury that the offense has been committed,” Farrell said.
Scripps News asked Farrell whether the district attorney could have filed other charges that did not rely on a victim’s testimony.
Although it may have seemed that the suspect could have been charged with possession of explosives, Farrell said the materials sheriff’s deputies said Aldrich possessed – ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder — were likely not enough to be considered illegal explosive or incendiary parts under the law.
“If the only things the police found were ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder, (Aldrich) could not have been charged with possession of explosives,” Farrell said.
Without seeing the video, Farrell also suggested a possible misdemeanor obstruction charge may have been considered.
“In order for it to be obstruction, it has to go beyond merely silence or refusing to speak. And so, any refusal to allow the officers to do what they are saying that they want to do or what they want him to do would suffice,” said Farrell.
The body camera footage obtained by Scripps News shows authorities trying to convince the suspect to come out of the home by calling out to the suspect multiple times.
District Attorney Michael Allen would not speak to Scripps News following the release of this video but has repeatedly said publicly that his office did everything it could to prosecute the case before a judge dismissed it.
“This office absolutely prosecuted it. We prosecuted it until we could not prosecute it any longer, and it would not have prevented the Club Q shooting,” he said during a December press conference.
Extreme risk protection order
Several Club Q shooting victims have threatened to sue El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, the agency that handled the bomb threat incident, for failing to utilize Colorado’s Red Flag Law.
The law, at the time, allowed law enforcement officials and citizens who were family and household members to petition the court for an extreme risk protection order. When granted, the civil procedure, also known as an extreme risk protection order (ERPO), prohibits someone from legally accessing a firearm for one year.
However, Scripps News found no record that anyone petitioned for an ERPO in Aldrich’s 2021 case.
The sheriff at the time was an outspoken critic of the law.
In a series of notices of claim against the county filed in May, victims said the sheriff’s office “negligently and unconscionably played a role in Anderson Aldrich possessing and using firearms inside Club Q” because no law enforcement official sought an ERPO.
In a lengthy statement posted on the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office website on Dec. 8, 2022, the sheriff’s office said there was “never a point in time” its deputies needed to file for an ERPO because a mandatory protection order, or an MPO, was granted during the course of the criminal case against Aldrich.
“The existence of this MPO prevented Aldrich from lawfully possessing firearms, just as an ERPO would have,” the statement said. “To have petitioned for an ERPO after an MPO was issued would have been redundant and unnecessary.”
When the criminal case against Aldrich was dismissed, the MPO was no longer in effect, and Aldrich went on to obtain guns and commit a shooting at Club Q.
Some have questioned whether the civil extreme risk protection order would have impacted Aldrich's ability to obtain the guns that were used at Club Q.
Allen has said the firearms that were used in the mass shooting were “un-serialized” and “evaded all ATF background checks.”
“The handgun frame was purchased by (the suspect’s) mother, thereby allowing the defendant to escape any background checks had he purchased that handgun,” he said in a press conference.
According to Chris Knoepke, a Red Flag Law researcher who is also an assistant professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, “there’s no way to look back in time and see and be able to tell whether or not, you know, an ERPO or anything else would have prevented the tragedy that happened.”
If the extreme risk protection order had been granted, it would have been illegal for the defendant to possess any firearm, Knoepke said.
“If they’d been in possession of firearms and the police had become aware of that, then (the defendant) could have faced criminal penalties, including jail time and fines,” Knoepke said.
Knoepke said, just like any other civil protection order, it is possible for someone to commit a violation.
“(The order) creates a disincentive for the person to do whatever it is that they’re not allowed to do. So, in domestic violence restraining orders, the person’s not allowed to communicate with certain people or be near certain places. It would be illegal for them to do that, even though it’s still physically possible for them to. Whereas, in this situation, it would have made it illegal for (the defendant) to have access to firearms in any way, regardless of whether (the defendant) got them from a store or through some other means,” he said.
Watch more exclusive footage of the police confrontation with the Club Q shooting suspect on the Scripps News YouTube page:
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