A football coach is being called a hero after throwing himself in front of students to protect them from a gunman opening fire at a Florida high school Wednesday.
Aaron Feis was shot as he tried to shield students from a hail of bullets when suspected gunman, Nikolas Cruz, 19, went on a shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Feis was rushed to hospital in critical condition but later died of his injuries, according to reports.
“He died the same way he lived — he put himself second,” the school’s football program spokesperson, Denise Lehtio told CNN. “He was a very kind soul, a very nice man. He died a hero.”
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Police said Cruz, equipped with a gas mask, smoke grenades and multiple magazines of ammunition, opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon, killing at least 17 people and sending hundreds of students fleeing into the streets. It was one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history.
Feis, who was married and had a daughter, was the school’s assistant football coach and also worked as a security guard there.
The school’s football coach, Willis May, told Florida newspaper, the Sun Sentinel, that Feis jumped between a student and the shooter, pushing her through a door and out of the line of fire.
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At the time of the shooting, he was working security and responded to a call on the school’s radio, according to the Sun Sentinel. Someone then asked on the radio if the loud sounds that were heard in the background were firecrackers, according to May.
“I heard Aaron say, ‘No, that is not firecrackers.’ That’s the last I heard of him,” May said.
The school’s football team posted about Feis’ death on Twitter Thursday morning.
“It is with great sadness that our football family has learned about the death of Aaron Feis. 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,” it read.
According to his biography on the school’s athletic website, Feis graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 1999, returned to the school as a coach in 2002 and served as head coach of the junior varsity team.
May told the Sun-Sentinel that Feis was a “big ol’ teddy bear.”
“Hardcore – he coached hard. Real good line. 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,” he said.
Cruz was taken into custody without incident about an hour after the shooting in a residential neighbourhood close to the school.
On Thursday morning, he was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
Authorities offered no immediate details about Cruz or his possible motive, except to say that he had been kicked out of the high school, which has about 3,000 students. Students who knew him described a volatile teenager whose strange behaviour had caused others to end friendships with him.
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