More than a year before a man shot and killed five people at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, he was reportedly charged by police with threatening his mother with “a homemade bomb,” among other deadly weapons.
In June 2021, the suspected shooter was arrested for allegedly threatening to hurt his mother, Laura Voepel, “with a homemade bomb, multiple weapons, and ammunition,” according to a press release by the El Paso County Sherriff’s department. Sources confirmed to CNN that the alleged shooter and the person named in the press release are the same individual.
At the time, the man was arrested after a standoff with police, but a review of court records online show no indication that prosecutors moved forward with the case. The district attorney’s office said no formal charges were pursued in the case, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported. The district attorney’s office did not respond to a VICE News request for comment.
Following the incident, Voepel, the daughter of outgoing Republican State Assemblyman Randy Voepel, asked for help in a Facebook group for women involved in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Colorado Springs area.
“Hello Sisters. Does anyone know of a fantastic defense attorney? I ask this with a heavy heart but my family really needs some help at this time. We have cash to retain good counsel. Thank you,” she wrote in a post in July 2021, a month after her son was arrested.
Earlier this year, Voepel asked the same group, “Hello Sisters. Can anyone please recommend a great trauma/ptsd therapist?” She wanted the therapist for a 21-year-old, she added in the comments.
In May, she asked if anyone knew of a good boxing coach for her son, because he “hits like a freight train.”
The Colorado Springs rampage would be the latest mass shooting to be linked to domestic violence. Most mass shootings in the United States, including many of the most well-known and devastating massacres, now have a link to domestic violence. Yet, despite the outcry after each shooting, experts say that society continuously fails to take domestic violence seriously—or act before tragic consequences follow.
“Women are the canary in the coal mine,” gender justice advocate Farrah Khan told VICE News. “Mass shootings are not only about gun violence—they're about men's violence against women. And that's the piece that continuously gets lost in the plot.”
Earlier this year in Uvalde, Texas, the man who killed 19 students and two teachers shot his grandmother before he went on his rampage. The man who killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in 2016 beat his pregnant wife and threatened to kill her, his wife said in an interview with VICE News. The man who tied his wife to the bed and then opened fire at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017, leaving 26 people dead, had previously been court-martialed for assaulting his ex-wife and step-son. That history should have blocked the man from being able to purchase the guns that he used to commit the massacre—but the Air Force failed to give the right records to the FBI six times.
The shooting at Club Q isn’t even the first shooting in Colorado Springs to have a link to domestic violence. In 2021, a Colorado Springs man killed seven people, including himself and his girlfriend, at a birthday party.
Study after study has uncovered a disturbing connection between mass shootings and domestic abuse. Nearly 60 percent of mass shootings between 2014 and 2019 were connected to domestic violence, according to a 2021 study from the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. In nearly 70 percent of mass shootings, the perpetrator had either killed at least one partner or family member or had a history of domestic violence. The study also found that domestic violence-linked shootings tended to be deadlier than other kinds of shootings.
Another 2021 report, from Everytown for Gun Safety, found that in more than half of all mass shootings between 2009 and 2020, the shooter attacked a current or former intimate partner or family member. (Everytown defines a mass shooting as involving four or more deaths.) In at least 71 mass shootings recorded by Everytown, the perpetrator had a known history of domestic violence.
That’s in part why experts say domestic violence needs to be taken more seriously. Abuse doesn’t always stay confined to the home—it spills out, endangering the lives of others.
“When we don't see it as a public health concern, when we don't see domestic violence, intimate partner violence, and femicide as connected to a larger conversation of violence against whole communities, we actually will not end any of this,” Khan said.
After a domestic violence situation, there are useful questions that law enforcement should ask, Deepa Mattoo, the executive director of the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, told VICE News. “Did people do a risk assessment when this was reported? A safety assessment? Other possibilities with this person? What kind of misogyny or toxic masculinity instigated him to commit those crimes?” she said.
“Now, in this particular instance, we are seeing the direct impact on hate crimes against the communities,” Mattoo said of the Club Q shooting. “If we don’t play close attention to these instances then we are just waiting for the next one to happen.”
When the suspected shooter opened fire at Club Q, his primary weapon was an AR-15, but he also had a handgun and additional rounds of ammunition on him when he entered the club, law enforcement sources told Associated Press. Given his alleged history of violence, gun safety advocates want to know how the suspect was able to access firearms at all, especially in a state with red flag laws.
Colorado is one of 19 states with laws that are meant to keep firearms away from individuals at risk of harming others or themselves. Yet authorities do not appear to have ever filed a petition to remove the suspect’s weapons under Colorado’s red flag law, Reuters reported. There is also no evidence that police ever moved to formally charge the suspected shooter in relation to the 2021 incident. The county commissioners and sheriff of El Paso County, the home of Colorado Springs, have also openly opposed red flag laws.
“We really need to be clear that mass shootings aren’t only about gun control—they’re also about men’s violence against women,” Khan said.
Globally, violence targeting women and girls is so rampant that the World Health Organization declared it a “global public health pandemic.” In the United States, homicide is one of the leading causes of death of American women, the CDC concluded in 2017—and nearly half of those women were killed by a former or current partner. Mothers, grandmothers, and daughters are often victims too, Khan said.
The trend transcends U.S. borders. A devastating shooting rampage in Nova Scotia, Canada, that left 22 people dead in 2020 started after the shooter assaulted his girlfriend.
“When women are treated in the home as less than, when they're treated with hostility, hatred, when they’re being punished through violence, force, domination, we have to think that that's going to spill in other ways.” Khan said. “There's a pipeline also for misogyny to homophobia and transphobia, both those things are linked. You have to address both.”
Some experts are now attributing the latest shooting in Colorado Springs to the often violent rhetoric targeting LGBTQ people online and written into policy in recent years. According to Khan, domestic violence works in similar ways, with harassment and verbal threats often turning into physical assaults.
In 2022 alone, more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the U.S., according to the Human Rights Campaign. Republicans like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio collectively spent at least $50 million on anti-trans ads during the midterms. Meanwhile, far-right pundits and politicians falsely accused transgender folks of being “groomers” and referred to drag queens as “pedophiles.”
“The proliferation of hate by people in positions of power… This led to this murder,” Khan said. “They have blood on their hands.”
David Gilbert contributed reporting.