COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — When Army veteran Rich Fierro noticed a gunman spraying bullets at the club where he was gathering with friends and family, instincts from his military training immediately kicked in.
First he ducked to avoid potential fire, then moved to try to disarm the gunner.
“It’s the reflex. Walk! go to the fire Stop the action. Stop the activity. Don’t let anyone get hurt. I was trying to bring everyone back,” he said Monday outside his Colorado Springs home, where an American flag hung from the porch.
Fierro is one of two people whom police credit with saving lives by subduing a 22-year-old man who was armed with multiple firearms, including an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, who fired a gun on Saturday carried out rampage Night at Club Q, a well-known hangout 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 evenings. That changed abruptly when the shots rang out and Kassy’s friend Raymond Green Vance was fatally shot.
Speaking to reporters at his home on Monday, Fierro broke down in tears as he recalled Raymond smiling and dancing before the shooting began.
Fierro could smell the ammunition’s cordite, saw the flashes and dove, pinning his friend to the ground before falling backwards.
Looking up from the ground, Fierro saw the gunman’s body armor and the crowd that had fled to the club’s terrace. Move towards the attackerFierro grabbed the body armor and yanked the shooter down while yelling at another patron, Thomas James, to get the rifle out of range.
James is a US Navy information systems technician stationed at the Defense Intelligence Agency base in Colorado Springs, according to a biography released by the Navy. Tuesday’s Navy statement said James was in stable condition, without detailing 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 club.
“I tried to finish him off,” he said.
When a clubgoer walked by in high heels, Fierro challenged her 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 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 deployments 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 found that he had dealt with violence. That’s what he signed up for. “Nobody at this club asked for it,” he said, but everyone “will have to live with it now.”
Fierro and James held the shooter down until officers arrived minutes later. Fierro was briefly handcuffed and sat in a police car as law enforcement attempted to calm the chaos.
“I have never met a person who has engaged in such heroic acts and been so humble about it,” Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said of Fierro Monday. “He just said to me, ‘I was trying to protect my family.'”
The suspect, who was allegedly carrying multiple guns and extra ammo magazines, 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 ankles. “He was covered in blood,” she wrote on her brewery’s Atrevida Beer Co.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday President Joe Biden spoke to the Fierros. “He offered them his condolences and also his support and talked about what it’s like to grieve,” Jean-Pierre said, adding Biden thanked Fierro for his instinct to act and save lives.
Though his actions saved lives, Fierro said the deaths — including of his daughter’s boyfriend, Vance — were a tragedy both personally and for the wider community. The self-proclaimed “guy from San Diego,” who said he came from an immigrant family, dismissed the notion that he was a hero and asked for a continued focus on those whose lives were lost.
“There are five people I couldn’t help. And one of those things was family for me,” he said as his brother put a comforting hand on his shoulder.
Fierro said he doesn’t remember if the shooter reacted 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 will see who turned him on.”
Metz reported from Salt Lake City. Associated Press reporters Jamie Stengle in Dallas, Randy Herschaft in New York City and Josh Boak in Washington contributed.
This story has been updated to correct that a clubgoer, not a cast member, helped Fierro subdue the shooter.