Former Army Maj. Richard Fierro never thought he would need to use the combat skills he learned in the military while on a night out with his family.
But that’s just what happened Saturday night as Fierro, his wife and daughter, his daughter’s boyfriend and family friends were at Club Q in Colorado Springs celebrating a birthday and watching a drag show.
Shots rang out at the LGBTQ nightclub just before midnight. The veteran who did three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan said his training kicked in.
“I was in (fighting) mode, I was doing what I did down range. I trained for this,” he said.
After hitting the ground, Fierro saw a man with a gun and jumped into action. “I ran across the room … pulled him down,” Fierro said.
Fierro and Thomas James were identified by police as two clubgoers who helped take down the suspected gunman. Five people were killed in the attack and 17 were injured, officials say.
While hailed as a hero for helping stop additional casualties, Fierro told CNN it hurts him to think about the five people who will never get to go home as well as everyone in the building who was traumatized that night.
“This whole thing was a lot, my daughter and wife should’ve never experienced combat in Colorado Springs. And everybody in that building experienced combat that night, not to their own accord, but because they were forced to,” Fierro tearfully told CNN.
After the suspect was on the ground, another man, apparently James, helped Fierro subdue him and pushed a rifle out of the suspect’s reach.
That’s when Fierro noticed the suspect also had a pistol, which Fierro said he took and used to hit the gunman.
“I found a crease between his armor and his head and I just started whaling away with his gun,” Fierro said. “I told him while I was hitting him, ‘I’m going to f****** kill you man, because you tried to kill my friends.’ My family was in there, my little girl was in there.”
While Fierro was hitting the suspect with a gun, the other man was kicking him in the head.As soon as the police arrived, Fierro said he began tending to his injured friends.
“I tried. I tried to help everybody in there,” Fierro said, becoming emotional.
“I don’t want to ever do this,” Fierro said of using his combat skills. “I was done doing this stuff, it was too much,” he said. “It lives in you. If you actually do this stuff, it’s in you … I’m not a GI Joe, I’m just a normal guy.”
Fierro’s daughter’s boyfriend, 22-year-old Raymond Green Vance, is among those killed in the shooting, he said.
“Raymond was a kind, selfless young adult with his entire life ahead of him. His closest friend describes him as gifted, one-of-a-kind, and willing to go out of his way to help anyone,” his family said in a statement.
The suspected gunman, identified as Anderson Lee Aldrich, remained hospitalized Monday. He is facing five counts of first-degree murder and five counts of a bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury, according to an online docket in El Paso County courts. The district attorney for El Paso County, Michael Allen, said formal charges have not been filed and the ones on the docket are preliminary and might change.
Authorities said Fierro’s actions likely prevented further deaths.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said he had “never encountered a person who had engaged in such heroic actions who was so humble about it.”
Yes, but: Fierro told reporters outside his Colorado Springs home Monday night he tackled the suspect because “that is what I was trained to do.”
His four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan had prepared him for it and he got into “combat mode,” Fierro said.
“I need to save my family. And that family… was everybody in that room,” he said.
The big picture: The Fierro family told reporters they were at Club Q with their daughter and friends to celebrate a friend’s birthday.
Their daughter’s boyfriend, Raymond Green Vance, was among those killed in the shooting.
“There are five people I could not help, one of which was family to me,” Fierro said. “I feel no joy. That guy is still alive … and my family is not.”
“I just kept whaling on him. And I told the kid in front of me, ‘Kick him in his head, keep kicking him in his head,'” he recalled. “One of the performers was running by and I told her, ‘kick this guy, kick this guy,’ and she took her high heel and stuffed it in his face, or his head or whatever she could hit.”
Police who came in took the gunman and Fierro into custody. He spent time in a patrol car as they sorted things out. He said he has no problem with that.
The suspect, 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich was taken to a hospital for treatment and is facing at least 10 charges, including five counts of first-degree murder and five counts of a bias-motivated crime.
Local officials, including Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, and witnesses credited Club Q patrons and employees, hailing them as heroes: “In my opinion, and I think the opinion of everyone involved, saved a lot of lives … I have never encountered a person who had engaged in such heroic actions, that was so humble about it.”
“I used to tell my soldiers, ‘let’s go. We gotta get on the next patrol. Let’s go, we gotta’ get out there,'” he said. “Nobody in that building is going to be able to do a next patrol.”
He hopes people will be supportive and remember those that were lost and injured.
“I want those five families to know that’s all I care about. I want those in the hospital, please get better, just get better,” he said. “Use this and shake someone’s hand. Give them a hug, give them a kiss. These were good people, man. They were all kids.”