Scott Beigel was a teacher. A cross-country coach. A counselor. A son. A brother. A man soon to be married.
He died a hero for his actions Wednesday afternoon at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where he taught geography and coached cross-country.
But family and friends say this Long Island native, who made his home in Deerfield Beach, lived his 35 years in heroic, unselfish fashion.
Beigel lived these traits long before the world learned his name because of a 19-year-old disgruntled former student who claimed 17 lives of students and teachers with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. Beigel was shot and killed as he gave shelter to as many students as he could inside his classroom.
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“He was a hero before he saved these lives. Just as many people who will be talking about Scott would be calling him a hero even if this didn’t occur. Obviously, a tragedy,” Beigel’s sister Melissa Zech said Saturday.
“He died shielding his students from gunfire. He made the ultimate sacrifice to do what he so often effortlessly did — make the lives of other people better,” his friend Matt Hipps, a first-year director at Dalton State University in Georgia, wrote on Facebook the morning after the shootings.
Kelsey Friend, one of Beigel’s students, told CNN that he was shot outside the classroom door he’d held open for fleeing students when he went to lock it after ushering everyone inside.
She also told ABC’s “Good Morning America” she believes the killer bypassed the room, figuring no one was inside, when he saw Biegel lying by the door. Kelsey says Beigel saved her life.
“Mr. Beigel was my hero and he still will forever be my hero. I will never forget the actions that he took for me and for fellow students in the classroom,” Kelsey told CNN. “I am alive today because of him. If I could see him right now ... I’d give him a huge teddy bear to say thank you. But, unfortunately, I can’t do that.”
Beigel was also a counselor at Camp Starlight in Pennsylvania where he had worked alongside Hipps, and where he had met his girlfriend, Gwen Gossler, about seven years ago when they were counselors.
The sleep-away camp called Beigel, who studied education at the University of Miami, a “beloved friend and hero” on its Facebook post.
“Scott was an institution at Camp Starlight. I always was in awe of how effortless he made it all look. And he was so unselfish with his talents and gifts. He made others better. He was a mentor and a friend,” Hipps wrote. “He cared about my children and my wife. He offered me encouragement and accountability. We laughed and cried together. We celebrated and anguished together. He drove me to be a better division leader, a better friend, a better man. I think back to our last conversation. It ended the way they all do. ‘Love you man, I'll talk to you soon.’ It hurts my soul so profoundly to know that won’t happen.”
In an interview with the Sun Sentinel, Biegel’s mother Linda Schulman said, “The pride and the love and the admiration that I have for my son, there are no words. He was humble, she added. “He never knew the value he had in everybody’s life.”
In addition to his mother and sister, Beigel’s survivors include his father Michael Schulman, and Gossler, his fiance.
Funeral services were held on Feb. 18 at Temple Beth El, 333 SW Fourth Ave., Boca Raton.
The family has set up the Scott J. Beigel Memorial Fund in Beigel’s honor. The fund will provide scholarships to send children, who couldn’t otherwise afford it, to camp. Contributions can be made to 8 Hart Place, Dix Hills, New York, 11746 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.