The suspect in the mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado had a tumultuous upbringing in which he was bullied as a teenager and raised for a time by his grandmother, according to an emerging portrait of the alleged gunman pieced together by CNN.
Anderson Lee Aldrich ended up in the care of his grandmother as his mother struggled with a string of arrests and related mental health evaluations, according to court records and an interview with a family member.
The suspect’s grandmother, who a relative described as his primary caretaker, declined to be interviewed by CNN.
Aldrich’s relationship with his mother appeared volatile last year when she called police on her son and said he threatened to harm 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 a matter that may ultimately have prohibited him from legally possessing a weapon if convicted.
A little over a year after the bomb threat incident, Aldrich allegedly opened fire at Club Q in Colorado Springs, killing five people and leaving more than a dozen injured. Aldrich, 22, faces five counts of first-degree murder and five counts of a bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury, according to an online docket in the El Paso County Court. The 6’4”, 260-pound suspect had been in the hospital for treatment of undisclosed injuries after he was subdued by club patrons during the attack.
Aldrich was born in May of 2000 under the name Nicholas Brink, and is the son of Laura Voepel and Aaron Brink, who 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 initial petition, he requested legal custody and visitation rights but asked that the court grant full physical custody to Voepel. Voepel stated in a 2007 filing that her son had had no contact with his father.
Aldrich’s father was a mixed martial arts fighter and a porn actor who spent time in federal prison for illegally importing marijuana, according to court documents, interviews, and an entertainment website.
About a year before Aldrich was born, Brink pleaded guilty in 1999 to a misdemeanor domestic battery charge and received a suspended sentence, according to the San Diego County Superior Court. Federal court records state that 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 stated in court records that she was unemployed and engaged with a new baby on the way, in addition to Aldrich, who was six years old at the time.
In 2009, Aldrich’s mother received three years of probation for convictions of public intoxication and falsely reporting a crime to police. The false report conviction stemmed from a 2008 incident in Murrieta, California in which police responded to a reported home invasion and found Voepel lying on her bed with her hands and legs bound with duct tape. Voepel initially told police a man had put string around her neck, bound her with tape and placed a knife on her chest. She admitted the following day, however, that she had been under the influence of narcotics and fabricated the incident because “she was lonely and wanted attention,” a police report states.
In 2010, Voepel underwent court-ordered mental health treatment in Riverside County, California that stemmed from those cases, according to court records obtained by CNN.
The records show Voepel sought custody of her then-10-year-old son – the age Aldrich would have been at the time. A document filed later noted that Voepel said her son had begun living with her and that she planned to seek medical, welfare and food stamp assistance.
It was unclear during what periods Aldrich lived with his grandmother who, according to public records, maintained residences in the same areas where her daughter and grandson lived in California, Texas and Colorado.
While in Texas, Aldrich’s mother continued to struggle with the law and mental health issues. A relative who spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity described Voepel as “sweet” but also as having a “tumultuous life.”
In 2012, she allegedly used a lighter to start a fire in her room at the Baptist Medical Center in San Antonio, according to a police report. Voepel, who was rescued by a hospital staffer, initially denied setting the fire, but security footage showed that she was the only person in her room when the blaze began, according to the police report.
A licensed psychologist concluded that she suffered from severe borderline personality disorder and alcohol dependence, among other issues, records show. According to court documents, she was originally charged with arson, but pleaded no contest to a reduced offense of criminal mischief in August 2013. She was sentenced to five years of community supervision.
Following his mom’s struggles, Aldrich was apparently having troubles of his own with at least some of his peers. In 2015, he was the subject of an online bullying page on a parody website. The site, which resembles Wikipedia, has photos of Aldrich as a teenager and uses offensive slurs to mock his weight and accuse him of engaging in illegal activity.
The site derided an apparent attempt by Aldrich’s grandmother to raise money for him to travel to Japan with classmates. A screenshot of a fundraising appeal says “Make a dream come true for a young man who has survived many bad knocks over his young life.” The fundraising goal was not reached, according to the post.
A history of revisions on the page shows that the bullying posts about him were updated several times over a five-month period in 2015. The page, which was first reported by the Washington Post, is still active.
Later that same year, just before his 16th birthday, the teen legally changed his name from Nicholas F. Brink to Anderson Lee Aldrich. A reason for the name change, also first reported by The Post, was not given.
Aldrich later moved to Colorado Springs where he lived with his grandmother. His mother lived in a rented room in a house nearby. Last year, Aldrich livestreamed a video from his mother’s Facebook page purportedly showing himself inside that house during a stand-off with police in the wake of the alleged bomb threat.
Leslie Bowman, who owns the home where the standoff took place and where Aldrich’s mother had been renting a room, said she screen recorded the video, which has since been deleted, and provided it to CNN.
The brief video shows a few seconds of an agitated young man – identified by Bowman as Aldrich – wearing a helmet and some type of body armor, and challenging law enforcement to breach the house where he had holed up.
He ends the video with what seems like a message to law enforcement outside: “So, uh, go ahead and come on in, boys! Let’s f**king see it!”
The video does not actually show any officers outside the house and it’s not clear whether 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 weapons, 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 house.
It is not immediately clear how the bomb threat case was resolved, but the Colorado Springs Gazette reported that the district attorney’s office said no formal charges were pursued in the case. The district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment from CNN.
CNN’s Melanie Hicken, Casey Tolan, Isabelle Chapman, Audrey Ash, Scott Bronstein, Nelli Black, Daniel A. Medina, Rob Kuznia and Bob Ortega contributed to this report.