NewsClub Q Shooting


Club Q Hero Thomas James: 'You do the right thing, because it's the right thing to do'

Thomas James
Posted at 9:41 AM, Oct 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-25 09:12:32-04

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — It has been nearly a year since the horrific mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs. Now in his first television interview, we are hearing from one of the other heroes who stopped the shooter's deadly rampage that night.

His name is Thomas James and for nearly a year the only picture we've seen of the Navy sailor is from his hospital bed in Colorado Springs as he recovered from being shot.

RELATED: Colorado shooting victim 'wanted to save the family I found'

James opened up to Dianne Derby, of Denver7's sister station in Colorado Springs KOAA, about his decision to confront the gunman and how he's using that moment to encourage others to "do the right thing because it's the right thing to do."

"That night, honestly, was a coin flip," James said. "I was going to stay in. It was kind of cold, dreary out, didn't want to deal with the weather. So, I was just going to stay in and then a friend started pestering me like, 'Hey, you need to come out. It's going to be a good time. It's always fun.' I was like, 'Okay, I'll flip for it.' It came up heads and I went out."

But just a few hours later, James was fighting to save his life and the lives of others at Club Q in Colorado Springs.

"I was on the patio," James said about the moment the shooter came into the club. "A friend introduced me to another person I hadn't met before, and we were talking, just having a smoke in the back."

James said the two could hear the music inside and then suddenly gunshots.

"The gunshots initially, to me, sounded like drum beats, like just part of the rhythm," James said. "Then the screams started happening and I looked across to a friend of mine, the friend I had just made, and they started moving in one direction, and I moved to these escape shutters that were in the back, closing off the rest of the patio, hoping to get them open as a way to kind of try and guide people through as quickly as possible so we can close them behind us. When I realized I didn't know how to get them open, I thought to myself, 'I have to buy my friends time' and I walked in."

Thomas James
This photo provided by the U.S. Navy shows U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas James in Centura Penrose Hospital on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Colorado Springs, Colo. James, who was injured while helping subdue a man who shot and killed five people at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, said in a statement Sunday, Nov. 27, that he “simply wanted to save the family I found.” (U.S. Navy via AP)

Dianne Derby: "What made you think about them instead of yourself first?"

Thomas James: "I figured the loss of my life would balance out the life saved. I had, to some extent, consigned myself that there would be a chance of death. At that time, I just hadn't thought of it."

When he saw the shooter, he started to fight.

"I just started swinging, swinging right at them," James said. "I had grabbed the gun barrel initially burnt the side of my finger."

The shooter fought back.

"I don't think I was able to get it out of their hand necessarily, they eventually did drop it, though," James said. "At one point they did reach for a pistol and they shot me in the chest."

But he kept fighting, joining Army veteran Richard Fierro and one other person as the three beat the killer into submission. When it was over five people were dead and 17 others were injured.

"I have the gunshot wound through here," said James as he described where the bullet entered below his chest. "It ricocheted off a rib and then went out the other end. The ricochet may have helped in making it a through and through. They also had to perform an abdominal laparotomy on me. I have a large scar."

James spent 42 days recovering from his physical injuries.

"Seven days in the hospital and then 35 days spent just at home trying to gather myself," James said.

Thomas James hospital selfie and healing wounds
Thomas James spent seven days in the hospital recovering from a gunshot wound and resulting surgery.

Dianne Derby: "How do you gather yourself after that?"

Thomas James: "At first, I didn't. I was honestly kind of a mess. Thinking about it so much led me to kind of just spend some nights just drinking to get to sleep. Trying to not sleep at all. If I could help it. The nightmares, the nightmares were near-constant. I tried my best to avoid being alone for long periods of time, so I reached out to other survivors like, 'Hey, would you all like to come and hang out?' They kind of ended up isolating, too, to some extent. So, I spent just these large swaths of time alone with my thoughts, and that was not conducive to healing. Eventually, I found myself spiraling, and that's when I reached out to my leadership once again. They directed me to some amazing therapists and the community and the community at large reached out, and I've been doing a lot better."

James and the two others who stopped the rampage have been called heroes but James does not see it that way.

"I see it as just doing the right thing," said James. "I guess I always had a weird philosophy behind doing the right thing where, yeah, it's fine to do the right thing, you just feel good about it. But that shouldn't be the end goal, the end result of doing the right thing. The result should be you do the right thing because it's the right thing to do."

It is a philosophy James stands by even as he speaks about the killer, using the shooter's preferred pronouns of "they/them."

"If I can use the pronouns of someone who tried to kill me correctly, then it shouldn't be any issue for someone who has a loved one to make that change themselves," James said.

As for the murderer now in prison, "I don't want to give the shooter my energy, my time, because that's my time now," James said. "They are gone forever, and I want to focus on a lot of what we can do to try and stop this from happening again. I think mental health outreach, addiction recovery, and just a lot of social work is a good first step."

For now, James is focused on helping to get the LGBTQ+ community to a place of peace, as the controversy over donations for victims of the shootings continues.

"We can weather any storm, but separately we will all get blown away," James said. "I think now with this division between the survivors, and the staff, and the owner of Club Q, and the non-profits, everybody kind of just going back and forth is going to solve nothing. I would like to get them to sit down at one point and talk like adults."

Because for James, the Club Q community is family, and as he's proven already, there is nothing that will stop him from keeping them safe.

Dianne Derby: "You made a choice in those moments to do something truly heroic."

Thomas James: "At the time, I just wanted to protect my family. I wanted to do the right thing, and I did. And that makes me happier than almost anything else."

Thomas James has been honored by the US Navy, Governor Jared Polis and local law enforcement for what he did at Club Q.

Earlier this month, he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps medals. The Navy Information Systems Technician Second Class (IT2) received it at a ceremony on Peterson Space Force Base. The medal is the highest non-combat decoration awarded for heroism by the U.S. Department of the Navy to members of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps.

Thomas James Award Pinning
Rear Adm. Scott Robertson, director of Plans, Policy and Strategy for North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, presents the Navy and Marine Corps Medal the medal on behalf of the Navy.

He was recently honored by the Colorado Springs Police Department and the Police Foundation with the Civilian Medal of Distinction.

In an Instagram post, CSPD wrote, "Thomas James, an active duty member of the United States Navy, identified the gunman and immediately fought with him. During the fight, James and the gunman went to the ground and James was shot during the struggle. Even after the gunman was taken into custody, Mr. James continued to show his resilience and care for the community, giving up his gurney to others who were more seriously injured even though he was also suffering from a gunshot wound. Tragically, five people were killed and numerous others were injured during the shooting. Mr. Thomas James is commended for his heroic actions stopping the shooter, saving countless lives, and for continuing to battle after he was seriously injured by gunfire."

Thomas James COS Award.jpg

Club Q Shooting coverage
Club Q announces 'One Year Remembrance' ceremony a year after mass shooting

The Victims of Club Q
The five victims were identified in the Club Q shooting.

Remembering the victims:
Raymond Green Vance
Ashley Paugh
Kelly Loving
Daniel Aston
Derrick Rump