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He fought off the gunman in the Club Q shooting. This is his message for Pride

Richard Fierro’s military instincts kicked in last November when a shooter opened fire at the Colorado Springs LGBTQ+ club where he was socializing with family and friends. Now he’s serving as the grand marshal of the Pikes Peak Pride parade, writes Sheila Flynn

Saturday 10 June 2023 15:51 BST
Ex-Army captain Richard Fierro said he tackled and beat the Colorado Springs gunman as he stalked Club Q
Ex-Army captain Richard Fierro said he tackled and beat the Colorado Springs gunman as he stalked Club Q (Atrevida Beer Co)

The Army veteran who helped take down the Club Q shooter during the November massacre in Colorado Springs will be honoured on Sunday as the grand marshal of the city’s Pride parade, riding in his El Camino truck with his wife, daughter and friends he’d been socializing with on that tragic night – while remembering the sixth, fallen member of their group.

Richard Fierro, 46, a Colorado Springs brewery owner, was in Club Q on November 19 for a drag performance with his wife, Jess; their daughter, Kassandra, and her boyfriend, Raymond Green Vance; and two other friends. When a shooter opened fire in the venue, Mr Fierro’s 15 years in the US Army – including combat experience – kicked in back on civilian soil. He helped tackle the heavily-armed Anderson Lee Aldrich to the ground and continued to subdue the shooter until officers arrived.

Before Aldrich was disarmed, more than a dozen were wounded, and five were killed – including Mr Vance, just 22.

Mr Fierro, his wife and daughter will be sitting in the back of the El Camino for the Pikes Peak Pride parade on Sunday, their two surviving friends from that terrifying night driving the vehicle.

Richard Fierro consoles his daughter Kassandra on 22 November at a memorial for her boyfriend who was fatally shot during a mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs (Getty Images)

“For us, that truck, we’ll have all five of us in there – and knowing that the sixth person that we lost [won’t be there,] that’s the group that went and we kind of wanted to do that as part of the parade,” Mr Fierro tells The Independent.

When he was asked to be the Grand Marshal a few months ago, he was “brought to tears,” he says.

“For a community to open their arms to someone that’s not necessarily in the community – adjacent or an ally, whatever you want to call it – but for them to open their arms to me, when so many right now are closing their arms to them ... that was a beautiful, beautiful thing,” he says. “So to me, that was what was most touching.”

Following Mr Fierro’s actions in November, he was invited to attend the State of the Union address in February and received the 2023 Single Act of Heroism award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society the next month.

Mr Fierro and his wife, who opened Atrevida Beer Company in 2018, have always founded their business on inclusivity and celebrated Pride, he says – but this year is far different.

Raymond Green Vance. (Colorado Springs Police Department)

“I’m blown away by the stories I’ve heard ... I already thought I knew what was going on in the LGBTQ community, but I didn’t,” he tells The Independent. “And hearing the stories of these kids, it’s still just as hard as it was back in the 80s and 90s, when I was watching my friends go through this.

“So it’s interesting,” he adds. “I thought there was a lot of progress – and then it seems like it’s starting to go backwards again. And I hate to see that.”

The Colorado Springs community has received outpourings of support since the November shooting, and Mr Fierro says that he thankfully has not witnessed hateful behavior towards others in his everyday life – but he knows it’s out there, and growing.

Fierro poses with his wife in Washington DC, where he was attending the State of the Union after subduing the gunman during November’s Club Q attack in his hometown (Richard Fierro)

“I have seen nothing but positive folks, and folks that are not part of the [LGBTQ} community just say, ‘Thanks for doing that for Colorado Springs folks.’ That’s kind of where it’s at, and I think that’s a good thing,” he says. “Online is a whole other nightmare, but I don’t pay attention to it ... I don’t see any of the crazy stuff. So, for me, it’s not a thing; my wife and daughter do deal with it a lot, but that’s because they’re on all the social media stuff, and that’s part of it.

“The media kind of projects what the feeling is across the country, with certain attitudes and laws being passed,” he says, referring to more conservative regulations passing in states such as Texas and Florida. “And yeah, I mean, that’s bad, but I can’t change any of that, so I focus on what’s in front of me, and that’s the people that I’m around – and then I’m surrounded by my customers and folks that I see in the store, and I just try and say hi and be friendly, because at the end of the day, that’s really all we can do.

“And hopefully that keeps people from doing something crazy.”

This booking photo provided by the Colorado Springs, Colo., Police Department shared via Twitter shows Anderson Lee Aldrich. (Colorado Springs Police Department)

Mr Fierro never expected to see that level of violence and disregard for human life at home in Colorado Springs, far from the war zones where he served with the US military.

“I tried and thought I had managed everything from my Army experience, because you’ve got to move forward, and I sought all the treatment, and I was pleased with where I was at prior to” the Club Q shooting, he says. “And then when it happened, it kind of scared the crap out of me, that I was going to go back to how I was.

A makeshift memorial to Club Q victims was constructed in Colorado Springs following the November attack near the shooting site (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

“So I went right back into treatment, and I feel like I’m managing it,” he says. “But you never know. It’s a forever change. This kind of stuff is not normal, and I don’t care how many times it happens, till it happens to you, it’s the worst thing that you can ever go through.

“I didn’t think I’d ever have to go home, on a daily basis, to folks that I went to combat with, right? We go to war, and we come back, and we all go our separate ways, and we still stay in contact, but I don’t have to come home and lay in bed with somebody who I went through combat with – and now that’s how me and my wife are, and my daughter’s there with us, too.”

Their family, and the wider Colorado Springs community, continues to heal, he says – and the city’s Pride festival, 29 weekends after the devastating Club Q horror, hopes to stand as a visible sign of that progress.

“It’s a mark of kind of a restart,” Mr Fierro tells The Independent. “I think this is a good moment for everybody to come out, show support, let the LGBTQ community in the Springs know that they’re welcome, that nobody has hate for them, and we’re all safe again. We’ve got to keep that mentality, because, at the end of the day, you can’t always fear. You have to get to live in the present. So that’s the goal.”

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