COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — When Army veteran Rich Fiera realized a gunman was spraying bullets at a club where he had gathered with friends and family, his military training instincts kicked in.
He ducked first to avoid potential fire and then moved to try to disarm the shooter.
“It’s a reflex. Go! Go to the fire. Stop action. Stop activity. Don’t let anyone get hurt. I tried to get everyone back,” he said outside his home on Monday.
Fierro is one of two people police credit with saving lives after subduing a 22-year-old man armed with multiple firearms, including an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, who opened fire Saturday night at Club Q. known gathering place for the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs. Five people died and at least 17 were injured.
Fiera was there with his daughter Cassie, her boyfriend and a few other friends to watch a drag show and celebrate a birthday. He said it was one of the group’s most enjoyable evenings. Things suddenly changed when shots rang out and Cassie’s boyfriend, Raymond Green Vance, was fatally wounded.
Speaking to reporters at his home Monday, Fiera wept as he recalled Raymond smiling and dancing before the shots rang out.
Fiera smelled the cordite in the ammo, saw the flashes, and lunged, knocking his friend down before falling backwards.
Looking up from the floor, Fiera saw the gunman’s bulletproof vest and the crowd running out onto the club’s patio. Moving toward the assailant, Fierro grabbed his bulletproof vest, yanked the shooter down, while yelling at the other patron, Thomas James, to move the rifle out of reach.
When the shooter found himself under a barrage of punches and kicks from James’ head, he tried to reach for the gun. Fiera grabbed it and used it as a club.
“I tried to finish him off,” he said.
When a performer attending the drag show ran by, Fiera told them to kick the gunman. The actress hit the attacker in the face with a high-heeled shoe, Fiera said.
“I love them,” Fiera said of the city’s LGBTQ community. “I have nothing but love.”
Fiera has served three tours of duty in Iraq and once in Afghanistan, and said he has dealt with violence. That’s what he signed up for. “No one at this club asked to do this,” he said, but everyone “will have to live with it now.”
Fiera and James, who were not known as of Monday evening, detained the shooter until officers arrived minutes later. Fiera was briefly handcuffed and sat in a police car while law enforcement tried to calm the chaos.
Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vazquez said Monday that Fiera acted with courage.
“I’ve never met a person who’s been involved in such a heroic act, who’s been so humble about it,” Vazquez said. “He just told me, ‘I was trying to protect my family.'”
When asked if he was being called a hero, Fiera demurred. “I’m just some dude from San Diego,” he said, standing outside his home alternating between English and Spanish words.
The suspect, who is said to be carrying several handguns and additional magazines of ammunition, is facing allegations of murder and hate crimes.
Fier’s wife, Jess, said via Facebook that her husband had bruised his right side and hurt 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, Fiera said the deaths — including that of his daughter’s boyfriend, Vance — were a tragedy both personally and for the larger community.
“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 screamed and struggled to restrain him, but he thought about their next interaction.
“I’m going to see this guy in court,” Fiera said. “And this guy will see who made him.”