Army veteran recounts subduing gunman at Colorado LGBTQ club

Photo for The Washington Post by Ross Taylor
Brenda Dulin, left, and Dayna Webb console each other as they visit a memorial for the victims of the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs. “I care deeply about the LGBTQ community,” Webb said. “I want them to know they’re loved.”

COLORADO SPRINGS – Richard Fierro went to Club Q in Colorado Springs on Saturday night to celebrate a friend’s birthday with his family, enjoying a drag show that included a performance by his 22-year-old daughter’s best friend.

By night’s end, the air of celebration would be cut off by gunfire. Three of Fierro’s loved ones would be shot – one fatally – and Fierro, a U.S. Army veteran, would find himself rushing to confront and subdue the gunman.

On Monday, he brushed aside his actions as necessary, as chaos overtook the club.

“I had my whole Colorado Springs family in there. I had to do something. He was not going to kill my family,” Fierro said. “I just want people to take care of people, the people who are hurt and no longer with us. I still got two of my best friends who are in the hospital. They still need prayers; they still need support.”

Since the weekend attack, police and others have credited unnamed customers with saving “dozens and dozens of lives,” as one of Club Q’s owners, Matthew Haynes, said at a memorial vigil Sunday evening. “Stopped the man cold. Everyone else was running away and he ran toward him.”

In a police briefing Monday afternoon, Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez and Mayor John Suthers named two patrons they said had subdued the gunman – Fierro and a second man, Thomas James.

Suthers said that he had spoken to Fierro on Monday, and “in my opinion, he saved a lot of lives.”

“I have never encountered a person who has engaged in such heroic actions who was so humble about it,” an emotional Suthers said.

Before the officials’ confirmation, club employees directed The Washington Post to comments on social media by Fierro’s family that credited him, and he spoke briefly to a reporter by telephone.

Five people were killed in the shooting and many more were injured, police said. Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, the alleged gunman, was among those still hospitalized on Monday. Authorities were holding him on five murder charges and five charges of committing a bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury, according to city spokesman Max D’Onofrio.

Fierro, who works for defense contractor Northrop Grumman and co-owns Atrevida Beer with his wife, Jessica, said that after the drag show he was standing with a friend as their wives danced. Then the gunman entered the club, firing.

Fierro, 45, had served in the Army before settling in Colorado Springs, a military community that is home to both Army and Air Force installations. Club Q staff and regulars included many service members and veterans, employees said.

“But I’ve always been shot at from afar,” Fierro said. Not this time. “I heard the shot. I smelled the cordite.”

Military records confirm that Fierro served as an Army field artillery officer from 1999 to 2013, deploying three times to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. He rose to the rank of major before leaving the service, according to Sgt. Pablo Saez, an Army spokesman. Fierro received numerous awards for his service, notably a Combat Action Badge and two Bronze Stars.

When the gunfire first rang out, Fierro said, “I dove when I heard it and I pushed my friend down. He went to the floor and ended up getting shot.” So did his friend’s wife and his daughter’s boyfriend.

Fierro’s daughter broke a knee as she ran for cover, and a stranger pulled her into a dressing room to hide. He said his wife “got sucked into the crowd that went to the patio.”

As Fierro got up from the floor, he said, he saw a man with a gun.

“I looked across the room and the guy was standing at the door. I ran across the bar, grabbed the guy from the back and pulled him down and pinned him against the stairs,” he said.

Fierro weighs 300 pounds, but he said the gunman was bigger, wearing body armor and carrying both a handgun and an AR-15-style rifle.

“He went for his weapon, and I grabbed his handgun,” Fierro said, but “his AR was right in front of him.”

Fierro said he started shouting orders to a young man who had stopped in front of the shooter to assist.

“I said ‘Kick him! Move the AR!’ Then I just started hitting him. But he was in armor plates, so I started hitting him wherever there was skin,” Fierro said. “The back of his head was my target.”

Fierro said he felt his military training kick in.

“I’m an officer and that’s what we do. I took control of the scene as best I could. I’m just hitting the guy with the pistol, beating the back of his head,” he recalled. “I’m yelling to people at the same time, ‘Call the police! Let’s go!'”

When the young man assisting him flagged, Fierro said he hailed a drag queen in high heels to help, shouting, “Kick him!”

“She kicked him because the other guy was tired,” Fierro said.

Minutes later, the first police officer arrived. “I was in the middle of a puddle of blood,” Fierro said.

After handing off to the police, Fierro went to find his friends, both of whom had been shot and were being treated with tourniquets by first responders.

“I put her hand in his hand so they could be together,” he said.

As other officers arrived, Fierro said, they treated him with suspicion. They interrupted him as he gave first aid to a friend, he said, and “dragged me out of there like I was the shooter.” He said he was held in a police car for an hour before authorities released him to reunite with his wife and daughter. Police did not return calls seeking to confirm Fierro’s account.

Fierro never saw his daughter Kassy’s boyfriend, 22-year-old Raymond Green Vance, her high school sweetheart. Later, he learned from the man’s mother that he had died, and with her permission, Fierro’s wife posted about their experience online.

“NO ONE should ever have to witness bloodshed like this,” Jessica Fierro wrote. “The loss of lives and the injured are in our hearts. We are devastated and torn. We love our #lgbtq community and stand with them. This cowardly and despicable act of hate has no room in our lives.”

She said the shooting had “left us and our community scarred but not broken.”

At home on Monday, Kassy Fierro was recovering from the knee injury, Jessica Fierro from bruises and her husband from injuries he suffered to his hands, knees and ankle while subduing the shooter. Jessica Fierro said she worries the shooting triggered his post-traumatic stress disorder.

Fierro said he does not consider himself a hero. Online, survivors of the shooting, friends and family responded to Fierro’s post with an outpouring of grateful support.

“I saw him there, I danced with them, he saved my life,” wrote Brianna Raenae. “Thank you for your bravery.”

“Thank you Richard, without your heroic actions this could’ve ended much worse than it already has,” wrote Patrick Curley.

“We already knew Rich was a Hero. He proves it yet again. Praying for healing, physically and mentally. Lots of love for your family and everyone [affected] by this evil lunatic,” wrote James Kormanik.

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Gowen reported from Colorado Springs and Hennessy-Fiske from Houston. The Washington Post’s Alex Horton contributed to this report.