COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — When Army veteran Rich Fierro realized a gunman was spraying bullets inside the club where he had gathered with friends and family, instincts from his military training immediately kicked in.
First he ducked to avoid any potential incoming fire, then he moved to try to disarm the shooter.
“It’s the reflex. Go! Go to the fire. Stop the action. Stop the activity. Don’t let no one get hurt. I tried to bring everybody back,” he said Monday outside his home in Colorado Springs, where an American flag hung from the porch.
Fierro is one of two people police are crediting with saving lives by subduing a 22-year-old man armed with multiple firearms, including an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle, who went on a shooting rampage Saturday night at Club Q, a well-known gathering place for the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs. Five people were killed and at least 17 wounded.
Fierro was there with his daughter Kassy, her boyfriend and several other friends to see a drag show and celebrate a birthday. He said it was one of the group’s most enjoyable nights. That suddenly changed when the shots rang out and Kassy’s boyfriend, Raymond Green Vance, was fatally shot.
Speaking to reporters at his home Monday, Fierro teared up as he recalled Raymond smiling and dancing before the shooting started.
Fierro could smell the cordite from the ammunition, saw the flashes and dove, pushing his friend down before falling backwards.
Looking up from the floor, Fierro saw the shooter’s body armor and the crowd that had fled to the club’s patio. Moving toward the attacker, Fierro grasped the body armor, yanked the shooter down while yelling at another patron, Thomas James, to move the rifle out of reach.
James is a U.S. Navy information systems technician stationed at the Defense Intelligence Agency base in Colorado Springs, according to a biography released by the Navy. The Navy statement Tuesday said James is in stable condition, without elaborating on the nature of his wounds.
As the shooter was pinned under a barrage of punches from Fierro and kicks to the head from James, he tried to reach for his pistol. Fierro grabbed it and used it as a bludgeon.
“I tried to finish him,” he said.
When a clubgoer ran by in heels, Fierro told her to kick the gunman. She stuffed her high-heeled shoe in the attacker’s face, Fierro said. Del Lusional, a drag queen who performed at Club Q on Saturday night, said on Twitter that the patron who intervened with her heel was a transgender woman.
“I love them,” Fierro said of the city’s LGBTQ community. “I have nothing but love.”
Fierro served three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan as a field artillery officer and left the Army as a major in 2013, an army spokesperson said.
He noted he had dealt with violence. That’s what he signed up for. “Nobody in that club asked to do this,” he said, but everyone “is going to have to live with it now.”
Fierro and James pinned the shooter down until officers arrived minutes later. Fierro was briefly handcuffed and sat in a police car as law enforcement tried to calm the chaos.
“I have never encountered a person who had engaged in such heroic actions who was so humble about it,” Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said of Fierro on Monday. “He simply said to me, ‘I was trying to protect my family.’”
The suspect, who was said to be carrying multiple guns and additional ammunition magazines, faces murder and hate crime charges.
Fierro’s wife, Jess, said via Facebook that her husband had bruised his right side and injured his hands, knees and ankle. “He was covered in blood,” she wrote on the page of their brewery, Atrevida Beer Co.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday that President Joe Biden had spoken with the Fierros. “He offered his condolences to them and also his support and talked through what it’s like to grieve,” Jean-Pierre said, adding that Biden thanked Fierro for his instinct to act and save lives.
Though his actions saved lives, Fierro said the deaths — including his daughter’s boyfriend, Vance — were a tragedy both personal and for the broader community. The self-described “dude from San Diego” who said he was from a family of immigrants rebuffed the idea that he was a hero and asked to keep focus on those whose lives were lost.
“There are five people that I could not help. And one of which was family to me,” he said, as his brother put a consoling hand on his shoulder.
Fierro said he doesn’t remember if the gunman responded as he yelled and struggled to subdue him, but he has thought about their next interaction.
“I’m gonna see that guy in court,” Fierro said. “And that guy’s gonna see who did him.”
Metz reported from Salt Lake City. Associated Press reporter Jamie Stengle in Dallas, Randy Herschaft in New York City and Josh Boak in Washington contributed.