An assistant football coach, a popular wrestling coach and athletic director, a cross-country coach and several athletes were among the victims of Wednesday’s mass shooting at a Florida high school.
Aaron Feis, an assistant football coach and security guard, was shot after throwing himself in front of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., according to news reports. The football team announced Feis’s death on Twitter early Thursday morning, writing that he “died a hero” and “will forever be in our hearts and memories.”
Douglas head football Coach Willis May described the 37-year old assistant as a “big ol’ teddy bear” in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel.
“Hardcore — he coached hard,” May said of Feis. “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.”
Chris Hixon, the school’s athletic director and wrestling coach, also was shot in the attack. The Miami Herald reported Thursday that Hixon had died from his injuries. Cross-country coach Scott Beigel, who taught geography at the school, died after opening his classroom door to students, the Sun-Sentinel reported. Soccer player Alyssa Alhadeff and swimmer Nick Dworet also died in the shooting, according to reports, while girls’ basketball player Maddy Wilford was “fighting for her life” after having surgery, according to her coach.
Hixon, the athletic director, was “probably the nicest guy I have ever met,” a fellow athletic director told the Sun-Sentinel. The 49-year old had been named the Broward County Athletic Association Athletic Director of the Year in 2017.
Beigel, the cross-country coach, was “an amazing person,” one student told CNN, while crediting the teacher with saving her life.
“I have said RIP too many times in the past 24 hours but RIP coach,” runner Chad Williams wrote on Twitter. “You are a king and heaven got a good one. rest easy.”
Dworet had recently committed to swim for the University of Indianapolis next fall, according to the Indianapolis Star.
“I’m telling you from the bottom of my heart, he just took his life in his hands and he chiseled and molded his life,” Andre Bailey, coach of TS Aquatics in Broward County, Fla., told the Star. “This kid went from being listless and going through the motions to planning ahead and organizing his life.”
Alhadeff played for the Douglas High girls’ junior varsity soccer team, according to a game story from the Eagle Eye. Her club team announced her death Thursday, adding that she was “a loved and well respected member of our club and community” and that she will be greatly missed.
Police said the suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, is a former student who had been expelled from the school for “disciplinary reasons.” He was captured and booked on 17 counts of premeditated murder, according to law enforcement records.
Feis, the assistant football coach, was lauded as a hero after the attack, with the football team’s statement saying he had “selflessly shielded students from the shooter.” He had been working as a security guard when the shooting began and responded to the original call on the school’s security radio walkie-talkies, the Sentinel reported, telling others that the loud sounds on campus were not firecrackers.
“That’s the last I heard of him,” said May, the head coach.
May said he spoke directly with a student who told him that Feis “jumped between her and the shooter, to push her out through a door and out of the line of fire,” according to the Sun-Sentinel.
Several Twitter users identifying themselves as Douglas students offered similar accounts, saying Feis was wounded while trying to protect people from the gunfire.
“Can everyone please take a second to pray for my coach today,” Charlie Rothkopf wrote in a widely circulated tweet that included a picture of the coach standing on the field. Rothkopf wrote that Feis was hit several times “covering other students at Douglas.”
“He was a great guy,” Douglas sophomore lineman Gage Gaynor told the Sentinel. “Everyone loved him. Shame he had to go like this. Always gave his all to making us better. Definitely learned a lot from him.”
According to a short biography on the Douglas football team’s website, Feis graduated from the school in 1999, where he played center on the team. He returned to Douglas in 2002 and became head coach of the junior varsity team. He later coached the linemen for the JV and varsity teams and coordinated the players’ college recruitment. He had a wife and a daughter, according to the biography.
Other current and former Douglas players expressed their grief on social media, as did football luminaries, including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Wilford had surgery Thursday morning, according to ESPN’s Mark Jones. Her coach, Marilyn Rule Heinrich, wrote on Facebook that Wilford “is fighting for her life! Please pray for Maddy Wilford. She was shot several times Keep praying for Maddy! She has pulled through 2 surgeries today and will have a 3rd surgery tomorrow! We Love You Maddy.”
Wilford’s mother, Missy, wrote on Facebook that “the surgeons didn’t know how many exactly [times she was shot], but she is alive which is a miracle,” according to the Sun-Sentinel.
In a post embedded on a GoFundMe page set up by friends of the family, Wilford said her daughter sustained gunshot wounds that “went through her back, crushing her ribs, piercing through her right lung and exiting through her stomach. Several went through the shoulder and traveled the length of her right arm before exiting.”
She added that her daughter is on a ventilator and that “doctors seem positive that Madeleine is young and strong and will recover over time.”