An Army veteran and father and a stranger are hailed as the heroes who ended the murderous assault on patrons at an LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Saturday night.
That father/veteran is Richard M. Fierro, a 45-year-old who served 15 years in the Army, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He left the military in 2013 with the rank of major and had been awarded two Bronze Stars, as The New York Times reported.
He didn’t know the man who helped him. Police have identified that individual as Thomas James, The Colorado Sun reported.
Per the Times, “It was supposed to be a chill family night out — the combat veteran and his wife, Jess, joined their daughter, Kassandra, her longtime boyfriend Raymond Green Vance, and two family friends to watch one of his daughter’s friends perform a drag act.” When the gunman opened fire, “instinct forged during four combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan instantly kicked in.”
The Times interviewed him at his home Monday, where his wife and daughter were recovering from injuries sustained during the attack. Fierro said it was his first time at a drag show and he was enjoying watching one of his daughter’s old high-school friends perform.
“I don’t know exactly what I did. I just went into combat mode,” he told reporter Dave Philipps.
In an attack that lasted just a couple of minutes, the 22-year-old gunman killed five people; at least 18 others were injured, all but one by gunfire. Officials said the toll would have been higher if Fierro and James had not acted.
Fierro knocked the gunman down, took away a gun and beat him into submission with it. He started “barking orders” at others to help him hold the gunman down. James reportedly moved the rifle out of the gunman’s reach and helped pin him down, according to news reports.
“In combat, most of the time nothing happens, but it’s that mad minute, and you are tested in that minute. It becomes habit,” he told The New York Times. “I don’t know how I got the weapon away from that guy, no idea. I’m just a dude, I’m a fat old vet, but I knew I had to do something.”
He was covered with blood and holding a handgun, so police tackled him, holding him in a squad car until they sorted out that he was a hero, not a villain.
As The Denver Post reported, “The first 911 calls came in at 11:57 p.m., and the shooter was subdued by the time police officers arrived. He was arrested at 12:02 a.m., police said.”
Mayor John Suthers told The Denver Post that he spoke with Fierro Monday “and was struck by his humility.”
“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 simply trying to protect my family.’”
Fierro’s wife and daughter suffered minor injuries, while their friends suffered more serious ones.
They learned Sunday that Fierro’s daughter’s boyfriend, Raymond Green Vance, was among the five who died in the attack.
Here’s what we know about the victims:
- Daniel Aston was described in an Associated Press article by his friends as a “master of silly business.” The 28-year-old transgender man described himself that way.
“On a typical night at Club Q, a bastion for LGBTQ people in the largely conservative city of Colorado Springs, Daniel Aston could be seen letting loose and sliding across the stage on his knees tailed by his mullet to whoops and hollers,” the article said.
AP said that his “eagerness to make people laugh and cheer started as a child in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when he would don elaborate costumes, including the beast from ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ cycle through weird hats, and write plays acted out by neighborhood kids.”
He attended Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, where he was president of its LGBTQ club. He moved to Colorado Springs two years ago to be near his parents and worked at Club Q as a bartender and performer, the article said.
- Kelly Loving, 40, was described to KKTV by her sister, Tiffany Loving, as “a good person. She was loving and caring and sweet. ... Kelly was a wonderful person.”
A New York Times article quoted Natalee Skye Bingham, a friend and former coworker from Florida, who said Loving had been like a mother to her. She said that “Loving, like many trans people, had been beaten up before, even stabbed and shot at, but that she was a ‘fighter.’”
- Ashley Paugh, 35, was a wife and had an 11-year-old daughter, NBC News reported. In a phone interview with NBC Monday, her sister, Stephanie Clark, said Paugh had traveled to Colorado Springs from her home in La Junta, Colorado, for a fun night out with a female friend. Paugh was not part of the LGBTQ community, Clark said.
“The two friends got a bite to eat, went shopping and planned to end the night at Club Q, where they were expecting a stand-up comedian to perform,” the article said.
Clark said her sister’s hobbies included fishing and hunting. She worked for a nonprofit.
- Friends told The Washington Post that Derrick Rump, 38, “is what made Club Q.”
“Sassy and pint-size, Rump was seen as the glue that held together the queer community in Colorado Springs,” the Post reported. “He bought lashes and outfits for drag queens who couldn’t afford them, and during the pandemic, when all of the performers lost their jobs, he bought other people’s groceries for two months straight.”
Rump worked in the bar for five years and was known as a good listener, described by patrons as “positive and extremely kind.”
- A statement from Raymond Green Vance’s family published by KKTV said he will be missed “unbearably.” It noted that “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. He had just gotten a new job at a Colorado Springs FedEx distribution center, and was thrilled to have received his first paycheck. He couldn’t wait to save enough money to get his own apartment, but in the meantime he lived with his mother and younger brother who adored him.”
He graduated in 2018 from Sand Creek High School in Colorado Springs. He and Fierro’s daughter had been together since middle school, Vance’s family said.
The suspect is being held on charges of hate crimes and murder, according to The Associated Press.