The “monster” who opened fire at an LGBT+ nightclub in Colorado last November, killing five people, has been sentenced to life in prison.
Anderson Lee Aldrich admitted five counts of murder and 46 counts of attempted murder – and also pleaded no contest to two hate crimes.
Aldrich’s guilty pleas mean the victims’ families are spared a long and painful trial.
During a court hearing in Colorado Springs, Aldrich, who identifies as non-binary, told judge Michael McHenry that they “intentionally and after deliberation caused the death of each victim”.
Aldrich, who was 22 at the time of the attack, stormed Club Q in Colorado Springs on 19 November during a drag queen’s birthday celebration.
Police and witnesses said Aldrich barged into the club with a rifle and a handgun and opened fire indiscriminately.
Two men with military backgrounds – Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran Richard Fierro, and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas James – subdued Aldrich until police arrived.
People in the courtroom on Monday wiped away tears as the judge explained the charges and read out the names of the victims.
“This thing sitting in this court room is not a human, it is a monster,” said Jessica Fierro, whose daughter’s boyfriend was killed that night.
“The devil awaits with open arms.”
Jeff Aston, the father of Daniel Aston, a Club Q bartender, said of his son: “He was a huge light in this world that was snuffed out by a heinous, evil and cowardly act. I will never again hear him laugh at my dad jokes.”
Daniel Aston’s mother, Sabrina, was among those who said they would not forgive the crimes.
But Wyatt Kent, Daniel Aston’s partner, said: “I forgive this individual, as they are a symbol of a broken system, of hate and vitriol pushed against us as a community.
“What brings joy to me is that this hurt individual will never be able to see the joy and the light that has been wrought into our community as an outcome.”
Aldrich mostly looked down as the victims spoke.
The AP news agency said it had received a series of calls from Aldrich, made from prison, expressing remorse.
Several survivors told AP that prosecutors advised them that Aldrich would plead guilty to charges that would ensure a sentence of life behind bars.
Aldrich was apparently on a “very large plethora of drugs” and abusing steroids at the time of the attack, AP reported.