COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — When Army veteran Rich Fierro realized a gunman was spraying bullets at the club where he had gathered with friends and family, the instincts from his military training immediately kicked in.
He ducked first to avoid potential incoming fire, then moved to try to disarm the gunner.
“It’s the reflex. I’m going! Go to the fire. Stop the action. Stop the activity. Don’t let anyone get hurt. I tried to bring everybody back,” he said Monday outside his Colorado Springs home, where an American flag hung on the front porch.
Fierro is one of two people police credit with saving lives by subduing a 22-year-old man armed with multiple firearms, including an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, who continued shooting on Saturday evening at Club Q, a well-known gathering place for Colorado Springs’ LGBTQ community. Five people were killed and at least 17 injured.
Fierro was there with her daughter Cassie, her boyfriend and a few other friends to see a drag show and celebrate a birthday. He said it was one of the band’s most enjoyable nights. That suddenly changed when shots rang out and Cassie’s boyfriend, Raymond Green Vance, was fatally shot.
Speaking to reporters at her home Monday, Fierro teared up as she recalled how Raymond was smiling and dancing before the shooting began.
Fierro smelled the cordite from the ammunition, saw the flashes and dove, pushing his friend down before he fell backwards.
Looking up from the floor, Fierro saw the gunman’s bulletproof vest and the crowd fleeing toward the club’s courtyard. Moving toward the assailant, Fierro grabbed the bulletproof vest, pulled the gunman down as he yelled at another patron, Thomas James, to move the rifle out of range.
As the gunman was pinned under a barrage of punches from Fiero and kicks to the head from James, he tried to reach for his gun. Fierro grabbed it and used it as a club.
“I tried to finish it,” he said.
When a clubgoer ran in high heels, Fierro told her to kick the shooter. She shoved her high-heeled shoe into 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 interfered with her heel was a transgender woman.
“I love them,” Fierro said of the city’s LGBTQ community. “I got nothing but love.”
Fierro served three tours of duty 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 faced violence. That’s what he signed up for. “No one at this club asked to do this,” he said, but everyone “will now have to live with it.”
Fierro and James, who were little known Monday night, pinned down the gunman until officers arrived minutes later. Fierro was briefly handcuffed and sat in a police car as law enforcement tried to calm the chaos.
“I’ve never met a person who has been involved in such heroic actions, who has been so humble about it,” Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vazquez said of Fierro on Monday. “He just told me, ‘I was trying to protect my family.’
The suspect, who is said to be carrying several handguns and extra ammunition magazines, faces murder and hate crime charges.
Fierro’s wife, Jess, said via Facebook that her husband hurt his right side and injured his hands, knees and ankle. “He was covered in blood,” she wrote on their brewery’s Atrevida Beer Co. page.
Although his actions saved lives, Fierro said the deaths — including that of his daughter’s boyfriend, Vance — are a tragedy both personally and for the larger community. The self-described “dude from San Diego,” who said he comes from a family of immigrants, rejected the notion that he was a hero and asked to focus on those whose lives were lost.
“There are five people I couldn’t help. And one of them was family to me,” he said as his brother placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.
Fierro said he didn’t remember if the gunman responded as he yelled and struggled to subdue him, but he thought about their next interaction.
“I’ll see this guy in court,” Fierro said. “And that man will see who killed him.”
Metz reported from Salt Lake City. Associated Press reporter Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed.
This story has been updated to correct that a clubgoer, not a performer, helped Fierro subdue the gunman.
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