COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – When the shooting started, before he realized he was hit, all Jerecho Loveall could do was dive for the floor.
Barrett Hudson, with seven bullet holes in his back, fled through the exit doors – then called his father, ready to die.
And when Richard Fierro saw the muzzle flashes and smelled the gunpowder, his training kicked in. After tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, he knew what to do.
“I just know I got into mode and I needed to save my family,” Fierro told reporters, a day after a deadly nightclub shooting stunned a nation already strained by tensions and threats toward the LGBTQ community. “And at that time, my family was everybody in that room.”
Police say one gunman with a rifle started shooting inside Club Q, shortly before midnight Saturday night. Five people were killed and 17 were wounded.
The rampage lasted only minutes. Authorities credit Fierro, 45, with stopping the slaughter before it got any worse.
Club Q was a longtime bar and dance club, a safe haven for this conservative city’s LGBTQ community, with theme nights, foam parties, drag queen brunches and lip-sync competitions. It was a place where bartenders were friends, one that felt like a second home.
Over the past few months, patrons had grown increasingly worried about political rhetoric condemning trans people and, by extension, the larger community of people who don’t conform to traditional norms of gender and behavior.
For Fierro, an Army veteran with 15 years in, it was a place for a Saturday night with friends and family. He was watching his daughter’s junior prom date perform in a drag show.
Then the gunfire began.
“Guy came in shooting. I smelled the cordite, I saw the flash. I dove, shoved my buddy down,” Fierro said.
He wasn’t sure how he did it. He just did. “That’s what I was trained to do. I saw him and I went and got him.”
But while police credit him for his heroics, Fierro on Monday night wanted only to apologize. He wished he had done more.
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Gunshots and smashing glass
Loveall, 30, arrived at the club with his wife, Christiana Loveall, and girlfriend, Brianna Winningham, at around 9:15 p.m. They took in the drag show and then stuck around for the DJ dance party, which started around 11:15 p.m.
There were 50 to 60 people there, he said.
Loveall had been a regular at Club Q for more than 13 years and had performed a drag-like dance show there several times.
Sometime during Saturday night, he chatted with Daniel Aston and Derrick Rump, club bartenders he considers friends. A disco ball swirled overhead as performers strutted the triangular stage and people took to the hardwood dance floor.
At around 11:55 p.m., as his wife and girlfriend shared a cigarette outside on the patio, Loveall sat at a table near the bar when two loud gunshots – bang bang – exploded in the club, he said.
He dropped to the floor. People fell and glass shattered all around him.
Then more shots – bang, bang, bang – as the shooter traveled from the stage area to the dancefloor. All around him, people fell to the ground, bleeding. There were shots and the sound of smashing glass but, eerily, no screams, Loveall said.
“I don’t remember anyone screaming,” he remembered later. “People didn’t have time to scream.”
As he lay on the ground, there was suddenly running and a scuffle. Then, silence. The gunshots had stopped. The whole ordeal – from the first gunshot to silence – lasted less than 10 minutes, Loveall said.
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Seven shots in the back
Hudson was inside the club and was hit by the early rounds fired by the gunman. He fell down, got shot again, sprang up and ran out double doors into the patio, he narrated from his hospital bed in a Facebook Live post.
He jumped on an outdoor table and scaled a fence, dropping to the other side. He then ran down an alley, across a busy street and into a nearby 7-Eleven convenience store and collapsed to the floor.
Customers in the store applied first aid and counted the bullets in his back – seven in all.
Hudson called his dad and readied to die.
“When they told me I had seven bullet holes in my back, I was like, ‘Well, peace (expletive),'” he said in the post. “I cannot believe I’m alive. I should not be alive.”
Taking down a shooter
The first frantic call came into the Colorado Springs Police Department at 11:56 p.m., according to authorities. The first police cruiser arrived at the scene four minutes later. By 12:02 a.m., the gunman was in police custody.
Also in custody was Fierro, covered in blood, chest heaving from exertion. He said he was held by police for an hour while they sorted out what happened.
The scuffle Loveall heard was Fierro slamming into the shooter, grabbing the back of his body armor and slamming him to the floor. Fierro, who stands about six feet tall, said the shooter was at least as big as he was, although he also admitted to being foggy on some of the details.
He remembered seeing the shooter’s “cheap” tactical clothing and grabbing the handle on the back of his armor. He remembered seeing a rifle that looked like an AR-15 and kicked that away. And he remembered the shooter trying to draw a handgun, which Fierro said he grabbed and used to bludgeon him.
Fierro said he was spurred into action when he realize the shooter was targeting the bar’s outdoor patio, where his wife had fled.
“I started whaling on this dude. I’m a big dude, man, and this guy was bigger. I just kept whaling on him. I told the kid in front of me, ‘kick him in his head, keep kicking him in his head, somebody call 911, somebody call 911,'” Fierro said. “I was cussing him out, telling him I was going to kill him.”
Fierro said a passing dancer helped him subdue the shooter, hitting him repeatedly in the head and face with her high heels.
He doesn’t know either of the people who helped him.
Discovering a bullet wound
When he saw the shooter had been subdued, Loveall got up and began helping those around him. Someone had pulled rags from behind the bar and he grabbed a bunch of them and handed them out to victims sprawled on the floor, urging them to compress their wounds.
As the police arrived, Loveall walked out of the club to search for his wife and girlfriend. As he walked toward the front entrance, he passed the shooter, who was face down in cuffs, wearing a brown Kevlar vest. A military-style assault rifle lay nearby.
Outside, he reunited with Cristiana Loveall and Winningham, who had escaped through a hole in the patio fence. As he hugged his wife, a sharp pain shot up his right leg. Loveall looked down and noticed he was bleeding. A bullet had entered through the shin and exited through the side of his leg. At a local hospital later, doctors recommended leaving the wound open, so that the leg naturally pushes out the shrapnel.
Loveall said he was saddened to learn later that both Aston and Rump, his bartender friends, were killed in the fuselage. He mourns for the victims, for the injured and for how Club Q was irrevocably changed that night.
“It was a place you can go and be accepted, without judgment, without drama,” said Loveall, who is in a polyamorous relationship.
He added: “For some of us, it was a second home.”
‘Those people aren’t home tonight’
Emotions remained raw Monday, including when Club Q bartender Sean Shelby visited the growing memorial outside the club with friends. He tried to explain to a USA TODAY reporter what had happened – the muzzle flashes, the gunshots.
On Facebook, Shelby had posted that he survived but two colleagues died. He opened his mouth to speak but tears began streaming down his face. He huddled deeper into his gray hoodie as a friend comforted him.
“I’m sorry. I can’t,” he said, walking away.
Fierro, the veteran credited with stopping the attack, said his daughter was shot, and Monday evening she sat in a chair in the family’s suburban home as he spoke to reporters. Killed in the attack was her longtime boyfriend, Raymond Green Vance.
Fierro declined to discuss Vance, saying he preferred to leave that to Vance’s family, but he apologized for being unable to do more.
“I wish I could have saved everybody in there. I wish I could have done more,” Fierro said Monday night. “Those people aren’t home tonight. I am. And I’m really upset by that. It’s not something I’m proud of.
“I’m not a hero. There’s real heroes out there,” he said. “I’m not a hero. I’m just some dude.”
Follow Jervis and Hughes on Twitter: @MrRJervis and @TrevorHughes.