Sailor who ripped rifle away from Club Q gunman earns Navy’s top non-combat honor

The Navy sailor was one of three people who disarmed and stopped the mass shooter at the LGBTQ club.
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Information Systems Technician Second Class Thomas James, was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal on Oct. 5, 2023. (Photo by Thomas Armstrong/Department of Defense)

A Navy sailor received the service’s highest non-combat honor for stopping the gunman during a mass shooting at an LGBTQ night club last year. 

Information Systems Technician Second Class Thomas James received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal on Oct. 5, 2023, for his actions on Nov. 19-20, 2022 at the Club Q LGBTQ night club. Late on Nov. 19, a shooter entered the club carrying an AR-15 pattern rifle, opening fire on patrons. The shooting lasted just six minutes, killing five people and injuring at least 18 others, including James at that time.

James was one of three people at the club who attacked and disarmed the shooter. Another was retired Army Major Richard Fierro, whose daughter’s boyfriend was one of those killed. Fierro charged the shooter, pulling the gunman down by their body armor. James jumped in as well, grabbing the rifle by the barrel and ripping it out of the shooter’s hands. He was shot in the abdomen during the struggle and burned his hands on the gun. The third, a trans woman, helped pin down the attacker while stomping on him with high heels.

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The U.S. Navy announced the honor this past week. In its statement on the honor, the Navy said that James acted “without consideration of personal harm and safety” when rushing the shooter. 

Rear Adm. Scott Robertson, director of Plans, Policy, and Strategy for North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, presented the award to James on behalf of the Navy. The ceremony took place at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs

“[James] said, ‘I wanted to buy time for my friends. I wanted to protect my community,’” Robertson said at the award ceremony.

The Navy and Marine Corps Medal, created in 1942, is awarded for acts of heroism outside of combat, such as rescues at sea or in James’ case, lifesaving actions during mass shootings. 

The gunman, Anderson Lee Aldrich, pleaded guilty to five counts of murder and 46 counts of attempted murder. Aldrich was sentenced to life in prison in June.

“You are targeting a group of people for their simple existence,” Judge Michael McHenry told Aldrich at the sentencing this summer. 

James is a fourth-generation veteran, according to the U.S. Navy, and works as part of the Defense Intelligence Agency. 

James was taken to a nearby hospital after the shooting ended, but not right away. After helping save lives that night, James also gave up an initial spot in an ambulance so that another patron of Club Q could get medical assistance quicker. 

“If I had my way, I would shield everyone I could from the nonsensical acts of hate in the world, but I am only one person,” James said last November while recovering in the hospital. 

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