Army Veteran Richard M. Fierro had been enjoying a night out with his family and friends watching a drag show when a gunman stormed into Colorado Spring’s Club Q and opened fire Saturday night, killing five people.
Fierro—a 45-year-old with 15 years of experience as an Army officer—dove to the ground. The instincts he honed as a soldier quickly kicked in and Fierro tackled the suspected gunman, beating him with the man’s own pistol until police could arrive.
“I don’t know exactly what I did, I just went into combat mode,” Fierro told The New York Times. “I just know I have to kill this guy before he kills us.”
Fierro is one of two men police have credited with taking down suspected gunman Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22.
Aldrich, who is now in custody facing murder and hate crime charges—including the boyfriend of Fierro’s daughter—and injuring at least another 18 people during the deadly rampage that lasted just a few minutes thanks to the efforts of Fierro and fellow club-goer Thomas James.
“He saved a lot of lives,” Mayor John Suthers said of Fierro’s efforts. “I have never encountered a person who engaged in such heroic actions and was so humble about it.”
Fierro, who served three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan during his military career, had been with his wife, daughter, daughter’s boyfriend Raymond Green Vance and several friends to celebrate a birthday and watch the LGBTQ+ club’s drag show when he said he heard the sudden gunfire erupt.
“I went to the ground as soon as I heard the rounds,” Fierro told CNN.
Fierro spotted the gunman, who he described to The Times as a large man weighing more than 300 pounds and wearing body armor, carrying a rifle and moving through the bar. He quickly went into action, grabbing him by the back of his body armor and slamming him to the floor.
Fierro jumped on top of him as another man, believed to be James, helped take the rifle away and began kicking shooter in the head.
When Fierro realized the shooter was also carrying a pistol, he said he grabbed it and began to hit the gunman with it.
“I found a crease between his armor and his head and I just started whaling away with his gun,” he told CNN. “I told him while I was hitting him, ‘I’m going to f---ing kill you man, because you tried to kill my friends.’ My family was in there, my little girl was in there.”
By the time police arrived, the gunman had been subdued. A blood-covered Fierro began to look for his family but was tackled by police, who placed him in handcuffs and held him in the back of a police car for what seemed like an hour before realizing his actual role in the incident.
Fierro, who runs a brewery called Atrevida Beer Co., credited his military background with his quick thinking but said he thought he had been “done with war.”
“I don’t want to ever do this,” Fierro told CNN. “I was done doing this stuff, it was too much.”
During the gunfire, two of Fierro’s friends were shot and his daughter’s 22-year-old boyfriend, Raymond Vance, was killed.
“I feel for every single person in that room. I feel no joy. I’m not happy. I’m not excited. That guy is still alive and my family is not,” he told reporters, according to NBC News. “I tried.”
In a statement to CNN, Vance’s family described him as a “kind, selfless young adult.”
“His closest friend describes him as gifted, one-of-a-kind, and willing to go out of his way to help anyone,” the statement said.
Fierro—who insisted he is “not a hero”—is now left struggling with how to help his family recover from the violence he hoped they’d never see.
“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,” he said.