Football Coach Identified as First Victim in Florida School Shooting
PARKLAND, Fla. — Football coach Aaron Feis threw himself in front of students as bullets hailed down Wednesday at his alma mater, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
It would become perhaps the final act undertaken by the assistant coach and security guard, who suffered a gunshot wound and died after he was rushed into surgery, according to the school’s football program and its spokeswoman, Denise Lehtio.
“He died the same way he lived — he put himself second,” Lehtio said. “He was a very kind soul, a very nice man. He died a hero.”
Feis was among 17 people killed when a former student armed with a rifle opened fired on campus, unleashing a massacre that stands among the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern US history.
Colton Haab, a 17-year-old junior and football player who was close with Feis, said he heard the coach shielded three girls from gunfire.
“That’s Coach Feis,” Haab said, describing the educator as selfless, approachable and friendly.
“(He) made sure everyone else’s needs were met before his own. He was a hard worker. He worked after school, on the weekends, mowing lawns, just helping as many people as possible,” Haab said.
Haab last saw Feis Tuesday morning in a school hallway, he said. They talked “about normal stuff,” like work and football.
“I’m glad he didn’t suffer that much,” the teenager said. “It’s sad because it’s not going to be the same without him at school anymore, that’s for sure. Football definitely won’t be the same. We’re definitely going to have to band back together as brothers and mourn his loss and pick up the pieces to try to rebuild our football team.”
The school’s football program tweeted:
“It is with Great sadness that our Football Family has learned about the death of Aaron Feis. 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.”
Janitor ushers students to safety
Feis, who spent his whole career at the school after graduating from Stoneman Douglas, was among countless heroes whose stories began emerging after Wednesday’s horror
Teacher Melissa Falkowski hid 19 students in a closet as the shooting erupted. Most students communicated silently on their phones, she said. Others burst into tears.
“This is the worst nightmare that could ever happen to you,” she told CNN.
Meantime, as a fire alarm blared, a janitor diverted senior David Hogg and other students away from the direction of the shooting, Hogg told CNN affiliate KTRK. A teacher then opened a classroom door so they could hide.
“Without her, who knows how many of us would have died, ’cause we were easily 100 feet away from the freshman building,” Hogg said, “and again, we thought this was a drill.”
The school is closed for the rest of the week, Runcie, the superintendent, said. The district will offer grief counseling to students and their families.
The shooting has revived debate over gun control.
Parkland, with a population of 31,000 in 2016, was named Florida’s safest city last year. It had seven reported violent crimes and 186 property crimes the previous year, an analysis said.
The suspect, Nikolas Cruz, 19, gunned down victims with a rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland shortly before 3 p.m. after he allegedly activated a fire alarm, sending people outside unaware of what was to come, officials said.
He fired shot after shot outside and then followed others running back inside the building, where people who’d heard the shots were taking shelter, officials said.
There, he roamed the halls he knew so well, allegedly targeting those huddled in classrooms and then blending in with the students and staff evacuating the school. He was arrested in the neighboring community of Coral Springs later in the day, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office said.
Cruz had once been expelled from the high school over disciplinary problems, Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said, without providing specifics. The young man now stands accused of committing one of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern US history.
“This has been a day where we’ve seen the worst of humanity. Tomorrow is gonna bring out the best in humanity as we come together to move forward from this unspeakable tragedy,” Runcie said.
Former classmates said they were not surprised at the identity of the suspected shooter. Cruz loved showing off guns, student Eddie Bonilla told CNN affiliate WFOR.
“We actually, a lot of kids threw jokes around Iike that, saying that he’s the one to shoot up the school, but it turns out everyone predicted it. It’s crazy,” Bonilla recalled.
Alex Azar also said he remembered Cruz.
“He always seemed like the unstable type, the type who would do this sort of thing,” Azar told WFOR. “He was always in trouble. … He had that look to him, kind of sinister.”
Investigators identified Cruz from school security videos before arresting him in Coral Springs, according to police.
Cruz was booked on 17 premeditated murder counts in the school shooting.
His first court appearance was expected Thursday afternoon.