DENVER — The person accused of killing five people at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs last month was on the FBI’s radar a day before being arrested for allegedly threatening to kill family members in 2021, but agents closed out the case just weeks later.
The disclosure by the FBI creates a new timeline for when law enforcement was first alerted to Anderson Lee Aldrich as a potential danger. Previously it was thought Aldrich only became known to authorities after making the alleged threat on June 18, 2021.
"The FBI received information on June 17, 2021, concerning Anderson Aldrich," an FBI spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday. "As part of the assessment, the FBI coordinated with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, which arrested Aldrich on June 18, 2021."
On that day, Aldrich’s grandparents ran from their Colorado Springs home and called 911, saying Aldrich was building a bomb in the basement and had threatened to kill them. The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office responded to the call and arrested Aldrich, now 22, on felony menacing and kidnapping charges.
About a month after getting the tip, the FBI closed its assessment of Aldrich.
“With state charges pending, the FBI closed its assessment on July 15, 2021,” the FBI said.
Those charges were later dropped for unknown reasons. Under Colorado law, cases that are dismissed by either prosecutors or a judge are automatically sealed.
A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, Sgt. Jason Garrett, declined to comment on the FBI’s statement or on whether his agency had any tips about Aldrich before Aldrich's 2021 arrest, citing the sealing law.
The information conveyed to the FBI marks the earliest known instance of law enforcement officials being warned about Aldrich, and the shooting is the latest attack to raise questions about whether people who once caught the attention of law enforcement should have remained on the FBI’s radar.
An FBI assessment is the lowest level, least intrusive and most elementary stage of an FBI inquiry. Such assessments are routinely opened after agents receive a tip and investigators routinely face the challenge of sifting through which of the tens of thousands of tips received every year could yield a viable threat.
There have been several high-profile examples of the FBI having received information about a gunman before a mass shooting. A month before Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people at a Florida high school, the bureau received a warning that he had been talking about committing a mass shooting. A man who massacred 49 people at an Orlando nightclub in 2016 and another who set off bombs in the streets of New York City the same year had each been looked at by federal agents but officials later determined they did not warrant continued law enforcement scrutiny.
FBI guidelines meant to balance national security with civil liberties protections impose restrictions on the steps agents may take during the assessment phase. Agents, for instance, may analyze information from government databases and open-source internet searches and can conduct interviews during an assessment. But they cannot turn to more intrusive techniques, such as requesting a wiretap or internet communications, without higher levels of approval and a more solid basis to suspect a crime.
More than 10,000 assessments are opened each year. Many are closed within days or weeks when the FBI concludes there’s no criminal or national security threat, or basis for continued scrutiny. The system is meant to ensure that a person who has not broken the law does not remain under perpetual scrutiny on a mere hunch — and that the FBI can reserve its scarce resources for true threats.
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