COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — When Army veteran Rich Fierro realized a gunman was spraying bullets inside the club where he had gathered with his friends and family, the instincts from his military training kicked in immediately.
He ducked first to avoid any potential incoming fire, then 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 anyone get hurt. I tried to bring everyone back,” he said Monday outside his Colorado Springs home, where an American flag hung on the porch.
Fierro is one of two people credited by police with saving lives by subduing a 22-year-old man armed with multiple firearms, including an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, who continued a shootout on Saturday evening 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 nicest nights the group had. That suddenly changed when the shots rang out and Kassy’s boyfriend, Raymond Green Vance, was fatally shot.
Speaking to reporters at his home on Monday, Fierro wept as he remembered Raymond smiling and dancing before the shooting began.
Fierro could smell the ammo cordite, saw the flashes, and dove, pushing his friend down before falling backwards.
Looking up from the ground, Fierro saw the shooter’s body armor and the crowd that had fled to the club terrace. Head toward the attackerFierro grabbed the body armor, pulled the shooter down while yelling at another customer, Thomas James, to move the gun out of reach.
As the shooter was pinned down by 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 club.
“I tried to finish it,” he said.
When a club goer switched to heels, Fierro told him to kick the shooter. 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 boss who stepped in with her heel was a transgender woman.
“I love them,” Fierro said of the city’s LGBTQ community. “I only have 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 spokesman said.
He noted that he had faced violence. That’s why he signed up. “No one at this club asked to do that,” he said, but everyone “is going to have to live with that now.”
Fierro and James, of whom little was known Monday night, restrained the shooter until officers arrived minutes later. Fierro was briefly handcuffed and seated in a police cruiser as law enforcement tried to quell the chaos.
“I have never met a person who has taken such heroic action and been so humbled about it,” Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said of Fierro on Monday. “He just said to me, ‘I was trying to protect my family.'”
The suspect, who was carrying multiple firearms and extra ammunition clips, faces murder and hate crime charges.
Fierro’s wife, Jess, said via Facebook that her husband injured his right side and injured his hands, knees and ankle. “He was covered in blood,” she wrote on the page for 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 them his condolences as well as his support and explained what it is to grieve,” Jean-Pierre said, adding that Biden thanked Fierro for his instinct to act and save lives.
Although her actions saved lives, Fierro said the deaths — including her daughter’s boyfriend, Vance — were a tragedy both personally and for the wider community. The self-proclaimed “dude from San Diego” who said he was from an immigrant family pushed back against the idea that he was a hero and asked to stay focused on those whose lives were lost.
“There are five people I couldn’t help. And one of which was family to me,” he said, as his brother laid a consoling hand on his shoulder.
Fierro said he couldn’t remember if the shooter responded as he screamed and struggled to subdue him, but he thought about their next interaction.
“I’m going to see this guy in court,” Fierro said. “And this guy is going to see who did it.”
Metz reported from Salt Lake City. Associated Press reporter Jamie Stengle in Dallas and Josh Boak in Washington contributed.
This story has been updated to correct that a club goer, not an artist, helped Fierro master the shooter.