A Parkland Football Coach 'Died The Same Way He Lived,' Putting Others First

“He was like your dad at school. Everyone respected him and he respected everyone.”

The Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Fla. that killed at least 17 people might have been even worse if it weren't for the heroic actions of staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, including assistant football coach and security guard Aaron Feis, who died after shielding at least one student from gunfire.

Douglas football coach Willis May said Feis jumped between a student and the shooter, pushing her through a door and away from the gunfire, according to the Sun Sentinel.

May went into lockdown in his office with four players and two Nichols College coaches, but he said he heard Feis' voice responding when someone on the school's radio walkie-talkie system asked if the loud sounds where firecrackers. "I heard Aaron say, 'No, that is not firecrackers,' " May told the Sun Sentinel. "That's the last I heard of him."

On Twitter, Douglas junior lineman Charlie Rothkopf said the assistant coach "took [several] bullets covering other students." 

"It is with great sadness that our football family has learned about the death of Aaron Feis," the football team's Twitter account posted early Thursday morning. "He was our assistant football coach and security guard. He selflessly shielded students from the shooter when he was shot. He died a hero and he will forever be in our hearts and memories."

Douglas football program spokesperson Denise Lehtio told CNN the 37-year-old "died the same way he lived — he put himself second." 

"He was a very kind soul, a very nice man," she added. "He died a hero."

"Big ol' teddy bear," May said of his colleague to the Sentinel. "Hardcore – he coached hard. Real good line. He did a great job with the [offensive] line. He took pride with working with those guys. Loyalty — I trusted him. He had my back. He worked hard. Just a good man. Loved his family. Loved his brother. Just an excellent family man."

In the wake of the tragedy — one of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history — other stories of heroism are emerging. Teacher Melissa Falkowski, for example, hid 19 students in a closet amid the chaos, CNN reported. Elsewhere, a janitor diverted students away from the gunfire, and a teacher opened a classroom door to let them take shelter.

Feis graduated from Douglas in 1999 and returned as a coach in 2002, spending his entire career at the school. He lived in Coral Springs, Fla., with his wife and daughter, but it's clear he had a family at the school, too. "He was like your dad at school," former Douglas student Tonya Sanchez told The Daily Beast. "Everyone respected him and he respected everyone."

Cover image via REUTERS/Zachary Fagenson.


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