Lawyers for the 22-year-old accused of murdering five people at a Colorado LGBTQ club revealed their client is non-binary ahead of an initial court appearance Wednesday, as details emerged of a chaotic past including family breakdown and a name change.
At least 18 others were hurt when a gun-wielding attacker stormed Club Q in Colorado Springs on Saturday night, strafing customers and staff.
The assault, which ended when a US Army veteran pounced on the attacker, shattered a rare safe haven for the city's tight-knit LGBTQ community.
On Wednesday, suspect Anderson Lee Aldrich remained seated wearing orange jail clothes during a brief court appearance by video link from a county lock-up.
No charges were levied, and no pleas entered.
Aldrich was flanked by two public defenders, who said in court documents filed Tuesday that the suspect identifies as nonbinary, and uses they/them pronouns.
The defendant spoke only to confirm their name and that they had been shown a video outlining their rights, when questioned by county court judge Charlotte Ankeny.
Aldrich has not been formally charged, but is being held without bond on suspicion of murder. Under Colorado's judicial system, formal charges are not expected for another 10 days.
A picture of Aldrich's messy life began to emerge Wednesday, with a childhood marked by instability and with parents who suffered from substance abuse problems.
US media reported that Aldrich was born Nicholas Brink to parents who had separated by the time the child turned two.
Nicholas became Anderson Lee Aldrich in a legal name change during teenage years spent in Texas.
By then, The New York Times reported — citing court records — Aldrich's father Aaron Franklin Brink, had logged several arrests in California in connection with drug and driving offences.
Brink, a conservative Republican who said he had previously worked as a porn actor, told CBS in San Diego that his ex-wife, Laura Voepel, informed him several years ago that their child was dead.
He continued to believe this until a phone call with Aldrich a few months ago which degenerated into an argument and threats by the suspect to assault Brink.
Brink, who said he now coaches mixed martial arts, told CBS he had "praised" Aldrich for violent behavior as a child.
"I told him it works. It is instant and you'll get immediate results," the father said.
He also acknowledged to a Times reporter "that he had voiced strong disapproval of gay people when the child was younger."
But, the paper said, he expressed sympathy for those affected by the deadly shooting in Colorado Springs.
The paper said Voepel had also had run-ins with California law enforcement, including for public drunkenness and in connection with possession of a controlled substance.
In 2012, she was given five years' probation in Texas for setting fire to a bed in the psychiatric ward to which she had been admitted, according to court records seen by the Times.
Wednesday's brief hearing came just days after the brutal attack in Club Q, with the small Rocky Mountain city of half a million people still reeling.
A bank of flowers and teddy bears formed a makeshift memorial outside the club, while on Monday night a candlelit vigil was held in a city center park.
But along with the mourning, there has also been praise for the bravery and quick-thinking of military veteran Richard Fierro, who was visiting the club with his wife.
Fierro told reporters he had snatched the attacker's pistol.
"I don't know exactly what I did, I just went into combat mode," he said. "I just know I have to kill this guy before he kills us.
"I grabbed the gun out of his hand and just started hitting him in the head, over and over," he told The New York Times.
A tentative new court appearance for Aldrich has been scheduled for December 6. —Agence France-Presse