(NewsNation) — Colorado Springs officials say the Club Q patrons who subdued a gunman Saturday night are heroes who kept the tragedy from being even worse.
The gruesome attack happened just before midnight in the popular gay nightclub, when a gunman used a shotgun to kill at least five people and injured 25. The toll would’ve been higher without two “very heroic individuals,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said.
One patron reportedly took the handgun from the shooter and hit him with it, while another held the gunman down until police arrived.
At a news conference Monday evening, Mayor Suthers identified the two heroes who intervened in the shooting as Richard Fierro and Thomas James.
Suthers said he had the pleasure of speaking with Fierro earlier Monday.
“I have never encountered a person who had engaged in such heroic actions that was so humble about it,” Suthers said. “He simply said to me, ‘I was trying to protect my family.’”
Fierro, an Army veteran, insists he’s not a hero for leaping into action to save the lives of others.
“I’m not a hero. There’s real heroes out there, right? I hope that people that really want to be a hero go do that. Achieve it. I hope my daughter’s a hero. I’m not a hero. We’re just punk kids from San Diego trying to make it, man,” Fierro told The Associated Press and other news outlets Monday night.
When he saw the gunman, Fierro chose to use his skillset, without hesitation, to confront the gunman.
“I wasn’t thinking. I just ran over there, got him,” Fierro said. He said he thought, “I’ve got to kill this guy. He’s going to kill my kid. He’s going to kill my wife. He ended up killing my daughter’s boyfriend.”
Fierro said once he had a grip on the gun, he continued to hit the shooter with it.
“I hit him with the gun,” Fierro said, later adding: “I grabbed it and hit him with it. I kept hitting him with it.”
He said someone else helped him keep the shooter down by kicking him until the police arrived. Once on the scene, Fierro said he was handcuffed and placed into the back of a squad car but understood why authorities did that in the moment.
“I get it. They are trying to sort out what they’re doing. I’m not saying anything bad about those guys,” he said.
Fierro served three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He believes his combat training helped him during the shooting.
“It’s the reflex. Go, go to the fire. Stop the action. Stop the activity. Don’t let no one get hurt. I tried to bring everybody back,” Fierro explained.
He continued: “Everyone in that building is going to have to live with that now. I have a hard enough time dealing with it before, but at least I’ve dealt with it. I chose to deal with it. Nobody in that club asked to do this. Nobody in that club wanted to be shot.”
Fierro said he loves his small community and hopes the focus will stay on the victims identified by investigators as Kelly Loving, Daniel Aston, Derrick Rump, Ashley Paugh and Raymond Green Vance.
“Those five people didn’t make it home. I apologize to them. I wish I could have saved everybody in there. I wish I could’ve done more. Those people aren’t home tonight. I am, and I’m really upset by that. It’s not something I’m proud of,” Fierro said.
Matthew Haynes, the owner of Club Q, told The New York Times the club had an active shooter protocol, which was “followed to the letter.” Police received a 911 call about the shooting at 11:57 p.m. and arrived within four minutes.
By acting quickly, Haynes said the heroic patrons likely saved “dozens and dozens of lives.”
“Stopped the man cold,” he said. “Everyone else was running away, and he ran toward him.”
Officials have identified the suspect as 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich.
Advocates say hate crimes against LGBTQ people have increased in recent years. A recent report said at least 32 transgender people have already been killed in 2022.
“We must drive out the inequities that contribute to violence against LGBTQI+ people. We cannot and must not tolerate hate,” President Joe Biden said Monday in a speech.
Aldrich may have previously been investigated by police over an alleged bomb threat in 2021, the BBC reports, after his mother had called emergency services saying “he was threatening to cause harm to her with a homemade bomb, multiple weapons, and ammunition.” Authorities in Colorado Springs would not verify the incident at a news conference Monday.
Suthers said those who feel called to help the victims of the shooting may do so by donating to the Colorado Healing Fund.