COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — 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 immediately kicked in.
He ducked first to avoid potential fire, 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 was trying to get everybody back,” he said Monday outside his Colorado Springs home, where an American flag hung from his front porch.
Fiera 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 semi-automatic rifle, who opened fire Saturday night at the Q Club, a well-known LGBTQ gathering spot. -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 cried as he recalled Raymond smiling and dancing before the shooting began.
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 to attackerFierro grabbed his bulletproof vest, yanked the shooter down, while yelling at the other gunner, Thomas James, to move the rifle out of reach.
James is a U.S. Navy information systems technician based at the Defense Intelligence Agency in Colorado Springs, according to a biography released by the Navy. The Navy said in a statement Tuesday that James was in stable condition, without specifying the nature of his injuries.
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 clubgoer ran past in high heels, Fiera told her to push the gunman. She drove her high-heeled shoe into the attacker’s face, Fierro said. Del Lucional, a drag queen who performed at Club Q on Saturday night, said on Twitter that the patron who stepped on her heel was a transgender woman.
“I love them,” Fiera said of the city’s LGBTQ community. “I have nothing but love.”
Fierro served three tours 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 had 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 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.
“I’ve never met a person who has been involved in such heroic actions, who has been so humble,” 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 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.
White House press secretary Karin Jean-Pierre said Tuesday that President Joe Biden had spoken with Fierro’s family. “He gave them his condolences and his support and told them what it’s like to grieve,” Jean-Pierre said, adding that Biden thanked Fierer for his instinct to act and save lives.
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. A self-described “dude from San Diego,” who said he came from an immigrant family, he rejected the idea 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 reacted 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.”
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