In the two months since Richard Fierro helped subdue the Club Q gunman, bringing a shooting rampage that killed five and injured 18 to a righteously violent end, the best days have been a blur for the Colorado Springs resident and co-owner of Atrevida Beer Co.
First there were the seemingly nonstop interviews, reporters near and far plumbing for details and fresh insights from the “hero Army vet” who, on Nov. 19, joined another patron — later identified as U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas James — to stop America’s then-most recent mass killing from claiming more lives.
A news crew even visited his parents in San Diego for a segment featuring a prophetic childhood photo of Fierro wearing a Superman costume.
“I only did what, I hope, anyone would do in that situation. I’m not a hero,” Rich Fierro repeatedly said.
When the Springs brewery he owns with his wife, Jessica, reopened Nov. 25, it did so to out-the-door throngs of well-wishers and supporters. Former staffers showed up, unbidden, to volunteer serving and slinging beers.
The crowds and response continued into December, after Atrevida ran out of two months’ worth of beer in less than two weeks and the local craft community swooped in to provide an altruistic, impromptu backstop after the shooting sidelined half of Atrevida’s six-person staff. Jess and the Fierros’ daughter, Kassy — both brewers — were injured trying to escape the attack inside the popular LGBTQ+ nightclub. Kassy suffered a shattered kneecap, and Jess several broken ribs; the physically-demanding job of creating beer was suddenly beyond their abilities.
“Red Leg, Goat Patch, there were a bunch of breweries that donated or sold us wholesale beer just so we could stay open” until inhouse brewing could start back up, said Rich Fierro, 45. “I felt weird, because I’m telling people, ‘Hey, come to my brewery,’ and, ‘Oh, I apologize, we don’t have any beer.’ That was hard for us.”
It certainly hasn’t been the hardest part, in the aftermath of a shooting that killed Kassy’s boyfriend and longtime Fierro family friend, Raymond Green Vance, and sent Rich’s two best friends, Chip and Joanne, to the hospital with gunshot wounds.
“Holy crap, that’s our whole Colorado family,” Rich said.
A combat veteran who served 15 years in the military, Rich knows learning to process and live with trauma isn’t a linear path. PTSD plays by its own rules.
“A song comes on. You see something. It’s really just how do you get to that next day, how do you get to that next meeting, how do you get to that next hour?” Jess said.
Busy is good, even when it brings petty frustrations, such as complaints from remote shoppers angry their Atrevida T-shirt didn’t arrive in time for Christmas.
The brewery’s limited cache of logo gear sold out online soon after the shooting, and backorders began backing up for the one-man merch operation Rich set up on a lark to help bring in money during the pandemic.
“I’m not Amazon. I don’t have a T-shirt machine back there,” said Rich, who in addition to helping run the brewery works full time as a defense contractor on Fort Carson. “We're looking for a distributor now, but that process hasn't been easy either.”
Busy keeps the bad thoughts at bay, at a time when sharing the Club Q story, along with the ethos and message Atrevida has long embraced — “Diversity on Tap,” and beer “Beyond Beer” — feels more important than ever, he said.
The Nov. 19 mass shooting “was in the (national) news for 10 minutes … and then people moved on. For us and everybody in that building it’s a forever change, and we haven’t even started the trial yet,” Rich said.
Accused shooter Anderson Aldrich faces 317 charges, including 10 counts of first-degree murder, 86 counts of attempted first-degree murder and 48 counts of bias motivated crime. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 22.
“If staying out and just talking to media hopefully gets somebody else to give another 20 bucks or 40 bucks … or 5 bucks or a dollar, or just to shake somebody’s hand or say thank you, that’s what matters to me,” Rich said.
Well over $1 million in donations has come in to help survivors and the families of victims with medical bills and other expenses.
That money won’t begin to cover the costs, for many of those still physically and emotionally recovering from injuries. They’ll need every dime, every kind word, they can get, Rich said.
“I've got health care and it still cost me $200 for the radiology visit. … And these kids were in there with multiple bullet wounds,” he said. “If they didn’t have any health care, you’re talking millions of dollars for each of these kids. How are they going to do that? That’s what’s so scary.”
After the Fierros appeared on “The Drew Barrymore Show” in December, the show donated $50,000 to the Colorado Healing Fund’s Club Q Shooting Response.
Their whirlwind trip to New York City to tape the segment, however, didn’t turn out as planned.
The couple were flown to New York in the wee hours, taped the show that afternoon, and planned to return to Colorado the following morning after some sightseeing.
“We had every intention of going to Rockefeller Center, looking at the big tree and everything,” Jess Fierro said. “Social anxiety is a thing. It gets you.”
She instead suggested they grab a couple of beers and head back to the hotel room. That’s what they did.
“That was the first time that he and I got to really discuss everything in depth, what happened … kind of just putting pieces together, between his experience and my experience,” said Jess, who was on the club's patio when the shooting began inside.
“Yes, you want the distractions but there’s also some solace in having time alone to kind of just talk through it, as ugly as it may be,” Rich added.
Distractions continued once they returned to Colorado. About a week after the New York trip, they got a call from a representative with the L.A. Chargers.
A photo of Rich in The New York Times showed him in front of a Chargers banner. How that image fed a grassroots push that ended with Rich, Jess and Kassy meeting the team, touring the stadium, and attending the Chargers’ final home game of the season on Jan. 1 is “a great illustration too of how the community does rally and come together,” Jess said.
As happened with donations, many hands make light work of heavy — sometimes uplifting — stuff.
“They didn’t know any of the logistics of the story or any of the specifics, (but) everyone on the internet started just tagging the Chargers, (saying) Rich Fierro was a Chargers fan and we’re San Diego natives, born and raised,” Jess said.
The team got the message, loud and clear.
The Fierros were already planning to be in San Diego for the holidays, to visit family.
“It was very weirdly organic,” Rich said. “When the Chargers brought us out, I expected to go see a game and sit in the stands like everybody else.”
They didn't expect seats in the club suite. When the team told Rich they planned to invite him onto the field for “acknowledgement” during one of the quarters, he said he expected they’d say a few words, he and Jess would “smile and wave,” and that would be that.
It wasn’t. NFL Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson, who met them on the field that day, had one more surprise in store for the hero and his wife.
The Chargers later posted about the event on Facebook, sharing a video of the team lined up to shake hands with the Club Q hero during practice Dec. 30, and the moment Fierro realized he was going to Super Bowl LVII.
In the video, Fierro erupts in whoops of glee, leaping and holding aloft the poster-sized "ticket," then embracing his wife.
“I never expected to go to the Super Bowl. I can’t afford to go to those games. It was just amazing,” he said.
Of all the reasons to smile about that trip to San Diego, though, one will always stand out in his mind and heart: the look on his daughter’s face, as the team filed by to shake her hand and say “thank you.”
“She was outside herself, so happy she didn’t have to think about anything else at the moment,” said Rich, whose daughter underwent surgery on her knee and, for a time, used a wheelchair. “It was one of those moments that you never forget because it took you out of the bad and really put you in a good place, for a little while.”
Memories of the bad rushed in to fill the quiet during the long drive back to Colorado Springs. This time, though, there was conversation.
“It gave us time alone, the three of us, and that’s where you kind of see how this thing has affected us,” Rich said. “That’s when you realize, man, we had fun for a couple hours but at the end of the day … it doesn’t make it go away.”
The sound of the gunfire, the smell in the air, the horror of that night is never far away.
Fierro said he felt like he was back at war, an experience he spent his first decade of military retirement learning to recognize and manage, with the help of his family.
“They suffered through it with me. Now they’re on the other side,” Rich said. “We’re all in this as if we all came back (from) war. Everyone in that club is the same way.”
Jess said her husband’s experience and understanding of PTSD has helped them all.
“In a very weird, ironic way, everything that he’s gone through through his military training, he’s literally imparting on Kassy and I,” she said.
The day after the shooting, as Rich drove his wife and daughter home from the hospital, he turned down the radio. For a while, they traveled in silence. Then Rich spoke up.
“He was like, ‘Hey, listen. Prepare. You’re going to feel things you’ve never felt before … and get angry at things you’ve never been angry at,’” Jess said. “I could hear that counseling that he had gotten kind of coming out through him to our ears.”
Those words and wisdom from her husband of 31 years are her bedrock on the hardest days. The days when staying busy doesn’t keep the pain at bay.
Days like the two-month anniversary of the shooting.
Days like last Saturday, when Raymond Green Vance would have celebrated his 23rd birthday.
“Today’s been especially difficult,” Jess said last Thursday, “but it’s also … I get to go and visit my best friends. I get to go home to my husband.”
And to a brewery “family” that’s always been a safe and welcoming place for the LGBTQ+ community. And to an anniversary whose arrival she doesn’t dread.
Atrevida celebrates its fifth year in business on May 5, Cinco de Mayo.
“I think we’re going to go pretty big on this one,” said Jess, her cheeks damp with tears. “There’s a lot to celebrate.”