A U.S. Army veteran who served three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan is crediting his military training with helping disarm the gunman who opened fire inside a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, telling reporters that he tried to use the attacker’s own pistol to “finish him.”
Rich Fierro and Thomas James are the two people police are hailing for saving lives at Club Q on Saturday night, when Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, is accused of carrying out a mass shooting that left five dead and at least 25 wounded. Aldrich, who brought multiple firearms inside the property, including an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle, according to The Associated Press, is now facing murder and hate crime charges.
“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,” Fierro said to media that had gathered Monday outside his home.
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.
First he ducked to avoid any potential incoming fire, then moved to try to disarm the shooter.
Fierro could smell the cordite from the ammunition, saw the flashes and dove, pushing one of his friends 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, James, to move the rifle out of reach.
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 performer who was there for the drag show ran by, Fierro told them to kick the gunman. The performer stuffed a high-heeled shoe in the attacker’s face, Fierro said.
“I love them,” Fierro said of the city’s LGBTQ community. “I have nothing but love.”
“I really hope people kind of use this and shake someone’s hand, give someone a hug, give them a kiss,” he added. “These are good people, man, these were all kids.”
Fierro served three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, and said he has dealt with violence. “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.
Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez later said Monday that Fierro acted courageously.
“I have never encountered a person who had engaged in such heroic actions who was so humble about it,” Vasquez said. “He simply said to me, ‘I was trying to protect my family.’”
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.
Fierro said he does not 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.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.