Football Coach Aaron Feis Died During The Florida School Shooting While Shielding Students From Gunfire
Of the 17 people shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, the first victim's name confirmed by police was Aaron Feis. Employed by the school as a security guard and football coach, Feis died while protecting students from the shooter.
Willis May, the head football coach at Douglas, told the Sun Sentinel that a student said Feis had jumped between her and the shooter, which resulted in him being hit by several bullets. According to May, the student said that Feis pushed her out of the way to safety, a heroic act that almost certainly saved her life.
The Twitter account for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas football team announced the news of his death early Thursday morning. Featuring a picture of Feis, the post read in part: "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."
Feis himself graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which is located in the southern Florida town of Parkland. He was an assistant football coach at the school, in charge of coaching linemen.
May said that Feis first heard that a shooter was active in the school over his security guard walkie-talkie. He was asked if the sound of bullets being fired could be firecrackers. Feis responded, "No, that is not firecrackers."
Andrew Hofmann, another former student who now works at Douglas High coaching the swim and water polo teams, told the Miami Herald that Feis was "well dedicated to the safety of the school during the daytime." Hofmann also noted that despite being a "quiet person," Feis was quick to laugh when he heard a good joke.
Multiple tributes and calls for prayer for Feis went up on social media Wednesday, as students and community members were left uncertain about his fate.
The outpouring of concern for Feis was not a surprise for former student Ashley Speziale. She told The Daily Beast that "his office was always open." Speziale said that Feis was "always friendly with everybody."
Before he passed away, Speziale's stepfather, Richard Wentz, had worked for several years with Feis on the security staff at Douglas High. Of her stepfather and Feis' relationship with the student body, Speziale said, "They had a bond with all the students. People trusted them.”
“They made the world a better place,” Speziale said.
Wentz had previously worked as an NYPD detective, and he responded in-person to the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City. He managed to escape the second tower before it collapsed, but suffered physically from the inhalation of smoke and debris. Wentz died from related complications in 2013. Speziale said that Feis was there for her and her family during that difficult time.
And after Speziale's sister was killed a few months later by a drunk driver, Feis contacted her family to offer his condolences and support. He showed up for her funeral, and Speziale said that he'd been there for her throughout her high school years and after graduation.
"It was warming to know that he knew my sister and stepdad just as well as I did. He was able to let those memories live on as well," she told The Daily Beast.
Feis will leave behind a wife and daughter, according to The Sun Sentinel.
The Parkland shooting is now one of the 10 deadliest such attacks in recent U.S. history. For many observers and social media users, the heroism of Feis offered a stark contrast with the terror and violence unleashed in yet another American high school. He will no doubt be remembered for his bravery and selflessness in the face of such horror.