COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The suspect accused of killing five people at an LGBTQ nightclub told relatives months before the attack that "you guys die today" if they persisted in telling police about plans to build a bomb and harm others, according to documents unsealed Thursday.
The documents shed light on the investigation into Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, after the suspect's grandparents reported to police that the suspect was preparing a bomb and threatened them in 2021 – about 17 months before the attack.
"You guys die today and I'm taking you with me," Aldrich is quoted as saying to the grandparents in June 2021, according to the documents.
The records offer insight into the division among family members as some fought to shield Aldrich from prosecution while others expressed concern that the suspect was violent and might kill people.
"We feel certain that if (Aldrich) is freed that (Aldrich) will hurt or murder my brother and his wife," the suspect's great uncle and aunt, Robert Pullen and Jeanie Streltzoff, wrote to a judge after Aldrich was charged with five felonies in the bomb threat case.
In the end, the county's top prosecutor said his office was forced to drop the charges because Aldrich's family wouldn't cooperate. The case raised questions about whether authorities could have used Colorado’s “red flag” law to seize weapons from the suspect, something El Paso County District Attorney Michael Allen characterized as a hypothetical that may not have stopped the violence at Club Q.
“The only way that it would’ve prevented the tragedy is if the witnesses were actually present at trial, testified, and somebody was convicted,” Allen said. “Again, (Aldrich) was not convicted in that case."
Docs: Suspect threatened to kill grandparents over move to Florida
The unsealed documents show the incident started June 18, 2021, after Aldrich’s grandmother, Pamela Pullen, told police that Aldrich had been working on creating a bomb in their basement.
When Pullen and her husband, Jonathan Pullen, told Aldrich they had sold their Colorado home and planned to move to Florida, Aldrich threatened the grandparents and said they couldn’t move because it would "interfere with his bomb-making," the unsealed documents say.
Aldrich then pointed a gun at them and said, "You guys die today, and I'm taking you with me. I'm loaded and ready. You're not calling anyone," the documents state.
Aldrich told the grandparents about a plan to "conduct a mass shooting and bombing," the affidavit says. Aldrich held the grandparents hostage in their home until they promised not to move. Records show that when Aldrich went to the basement again, the couple fled the home.
A SWAT standoff ensued at Aldrich's mother's home, where Aldrich fled and threatened to use explosives, authorities said. The incident forced neighbors to evacuate and police crisis negotiators to respond before the suspect surrendered. Aldrich was arrested for menacing and kidnapping.
On Thursday, Allen said two guns were seized in the case after authorities executed a search warrant at the home in 2021, including a 9mm “ghost gun,” and an MM-15 rifle. In Colorado, he said, it is not illegal to own a ghost gun, which is defined as a weapon without a serial number – thus making it untraceable. But it is illegal to sell the weapons to others, Allen said.
The two firearms remain in El Paso County Sheriff’s Office custody. The Sheriff’s office denied a request by Aldrich to get the guns back after the case was sealed, said Allen.
Mom attempted to hide Aldrich from authorities before threats of explosives
Aldrich's mother was contacted by police about the incident and authorities said she was not cooperative, refusing to answer any questions as to the whereabouts of Aldrich, according to the documents. Aldrich had fled to her home nearby after the incident at the grandparents' home.
In an affidavit, a deputy said screenshots of text messages between Aldrich's mother, Laura Voepel, and her landlord showed she was hiding the suspect inside her home. She wrote she "needed to make sure the cops weren't coming for her son," the documents show.
SWAT Team responded to Voepel's home and Aldrich released Voepel, who was inside the home with the suspect, to a SWAT team.
Aldrich, who was wearing tactical gear told authorities outside to get back because the suspect had Tannerite, an explosive mixture, inside the house, and would shoot through the walls, the unsealed documents state.
Relatives: If released, Aldrich will 'hurt or murder'
In a letter sent to the judge dated Nov. 29, 2021, Aldrich’s great uncle and great aunt, Robert Pullen and Jeanie Streltzoff, wrote Aldrich had been troubled throughout life despite Aldrich’s grandparents’ best efforts to raise and protect their grandchild.
They said Aldrich repeatedly attacked and threatened Jonathan Pullen, the grandfather, “but he was too scared to confront” Aldrich. Pullen mentioned a time when Jonathan Pullen had to go to the emergency room when they lived in San Antonio but Pullen lied to the doctors about what happened “due to being afraid (Aldrich’s) anger if (Aldrich) was picked up by the police.”
The letter from Aldrich's relatives had more than a dozen bullet points describing Aldrich’s behavior, including Strelzhoff telling her husband she'd given Aldrich $30,000, “much of which went to his purchase of two 3D printers – on which he was making guns. One of which arrived at the house and was returned,” the uncle and aunt wrote.
The couple said in the 2021 letter that if Aldrich was released from custody at the time, Aldrich “would hurt or murder my brother and his wife.”
The couple also said they believe Aldrich “needs therapy and counseling.”
Aldrich had prior interactions with authorities, family says
Aldrich had contact with police and other authorities even before the June 2021 bomb threat incident, according to Aldrich's great uncle and great aunt.
In the letter, the couple wrote that police had been called to the grandparents' home before, but Aldrich "threatened my brother if he told them anything." Robert Pullen and Jeanie Streltzoff also described an occasion when Aldrich "was picked up for 72 hours but was released early."
Another time, they wrote, a counselor who had seen the grandparents contacted police, who came to the home and wanted to "hold" Aldrich for 72 hours, but the grandmother "would not let (Aldrich) be taken."
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Judge unseals bomb threat records, citing public interest in the case
Hours earlier, District Court Judge Robin Chittum ruled the documents would be released, finding the public's interest in the case "far outweighed" the right to privacy and concerns about tainting the pool of potential jurors for Aldrich. The judge said the public interest "is so great I would even call it profound."
The judge added that scrutiny of judicial cases is "foundational to our system of government."
"The only way for that scrutiny to occur is for this to be unsealed,” Chittum said.
The judge’s order to release the records comes after several news organizations, including USA TODAY, sought to have the documents unsealed. The judge's ruling also came despite objections from state public defender Joseph Archambault, a chief trial deputy with the state public defender’s office representing Aldrich.
Archambault argued unsealing the documents would end any chance of Aldrich receiving a fair trial, noting the charges from the previous incident were never proven to a jury.
Archambault contends the coverage is "already painting Aldrich as guilty," and there's no way Aldrich could be seen as innocent.
"Unsealing the documents would end any hope of a fair trial," Archambault said.
Anderson Aldrich's family refused to cooperate in bomb threat prosecution, DA says
Allen said his office prosecuted the case to the best of their ability but were ultimately forced to drop the charges after repeated attempts to subpoena members of Aldrich's family.
The case was originally set to go to trial in May 2022 and rescheduled two months later, but Allen's office was unable to serve subpoenas to the suspect's family. Allen stated his office asked for the case to be continued but the defense objected.
Allen said the defense told the court at the time, his office had made some "valiant efforts" to serve the family subpoenas for their testimony but there was "no likelihood these people were going to show up" because they have "basically been avoiding everyone."
The case was dismissed and later sealed on Aug. 11.
Without the testimony of the suspect's family about the threats allegedly made by Aldrich, Allen said, the prosecution was unable to prove its case. “Ultimately, you have to get the grandma on the stand to testify and to be subject to cross-examination,” he said.
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Aldrich was charged Tuesday with 305 counts in the mass shooting at the LGBTQ nightclub, including murder, attempted murder, assault, and hate crime charges, with additional violent crime specifications.
In an arrest affidavit released Wednesday evening, Detective J. Gasper stated that Aldrich entered Club Q on Jan. 19 shortly before midnight with an AR-platform rifle and a pistol, opening fire almost immediately after entering the clubs' main area.
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In the Wednesday filing, Detective J. Gasper, one of the responding officers, described the bloody scene at the club after the arrest was made, adding there was "medical intervention debris and clothing items scattered" outside the club.
The records are set to be released by the 4th Judicial District Clerk's Office on the Colorado 4th District cases of interest page.
The 4th Judicial District Attorney's office is scheduled to hold a press conference at 1:30 MDT Thursday.
Justin Reutter of the Pueblo Chieftain, part of the USA TODAY Network, reported from Colorado Springs. Terry Collins of USA TODAY reported from Oakland, California.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Club Q shooting: Bomb threat docs show suspect threatened to kill family