Aaron Feis was considered much more than a sentinel at his alma mater.
In his job as security guard, he was also counselor and confidante to students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. His stocky size belied his soft touch. When he caught kids skipping class, he’d often sit them down for a one-on-one lesson rather than march them to the principal’s office.
On the last day of his life, Feis acted as burly bodyguard to the kids he loved as his own. He was seen driving his golf cart then sprinting on foot toward the shooter, a former student. He shielded students from bullets and pushed at least one girl out of the line of fire before he was struck and later died from his wounds. Feis, 37, was one of 17 victims killed Feb. 14 at the Parkland school.
Feis was also an assistant football coach who worked with the varsity offensive linemen and junior varsity team. He was a 1999 Douglas graduate and former Eagles football player.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"When Aaron Feis died, when he was killed tragically, inhumanely, he did it protecting others," said Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, who had coached with Feis and whose two sons played for Feis. "The kids in this community loved him. They adored him. He was a phenomenal man."
Feis "died a hero," said the football team in a Twitter post. The two other Douglas staff members who died while protecting students were also involved in school sports: Athletic Director Chris Hixon, 49, who coached the wrestling team and filled in as coach of four other teams, and geography teacher Scott Beigel, 35, who coached cross country.
"All my kids thought the world of him," Douglas football coach Willis May said of Feis. "They’d go on and on about how good he was to them and how he always had a smile for everybody. He was part of our family. The kids are heartbroken."
May said the last words he heard from Feis came over the walkie-talkie: "That was no firecracker."
Feis, who lived in Coral Springs, is survived by his wife, Melissa, and daughter, Arielle.
"She was always by his side," Aaron Gonzales, formerly receivers coach at Douglas, said of the little girl doted on by athletes. "He was the kind of coach who built kids up rather than tear them down. That school was his whole life."
Feis drove the team bus for a variety of sports, Gonzales said.
Student Colton Haab, who saw Feis "flying" down a hallway when the shooting erupted, said Feis easily related to students with his sense of humor.
Feis drove a 30-year-old pickup truck with broken windshield wipers and worked as a lawn man on weekends to earn extra money.
"He worked hard," said Haab, a former football player and a JROTC member who helped barricade 70 people in a classroom during the shooting. "Whatever he did he made sure he did it to the best of his ability. He always put someone else ahead of himself. I know he would do everything in his power to save somebody else."
According to Feis’ Facebook page, he was a fan of mixed martial arts fighter Ronda Rousey and ex-Gator quarterback Tim Tebow, the TV show Duck Dynasty and the movie "Faith of Our Fathers." Among his posts were a quote from Billy Graham, "A coach will impact more young people in a year than the average person does in a lifetime," and tributes to the U.S. military.
Senior defensive lineman Will Pringle called Feis "the most selfless and caring man I met."
"I can’t imagine not seeing you each morning, or you taking me around school on your cart, or you calling me an a—hole when I show up at your door to help with your Christmas tree," Pringle said on social media. "All the jokes you made, laughs we shared and all the times when you were the only [one] who still cared and would stick up for me, none of that will be forgotten, you’re a true hero and I love you from the bottom of my heart."