2 Coaches Among Those Killed In Florida School Shooting

Feb 15, 2018
Originally published on February 16, 2018 10:51 am

In the shooting Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., 17 people lost their lives.

Two of those who were killed were beloved coaches. Aaron Feis was an assistant football coach and security guard at the school, while Chris Hixon was the athletic director and wrestling coach.

Douglas head football coach Willis May Jr. told All Things Considered that he last saw Feis and Hixon when they were speeding toward the scene in a golf cart to see if they could help.

"Their job is when we have an altercation or a fight or anything, they're on their golf carts and they're there immediately and they are dealing with the situation," he said.

Feis graduated from Douglas in 1999, and had been an assistant football coach at the school since 2002, the ­Sun-Sentinel reported. He'd worked as a security guard at the school for at least eight years.

May said that he heard from students that Feis was shot while protecting a female student from the incoming gunfire. He said he's not surprised that Feis died trying to shield the kids: "That's what he did."

Hixon was also fatally shot after he raced to the scene to help students, May said.

"If we have a fight in school they're first there. Taking care of it. They did that every day," May added.

Feis "was a great guy," sophomore Douglas lineman Gage Gaynor told the newspaper. "Everyone loved him. Shame he had to go like this. Always gave his all to making us better. Definitely learned a lot from him."

"[He] made sure everyone else's needs were met before his own," Colton Haab, a junior on the football team, told CNN. "He was a hard worker. He worked after school, on the weekends, mowing lawns, just helping as many people as possible."

And the community also mourning Hixon, the athletic director. Between his two roles, Hixon had a lot to juggle, said May — but he relished the work.

"It's hard to be AD and a coach but he did it because he just loved it so much," May said. He loved being with the students — "he'd get out there and wrestle with them." He said Hixon had a great sense of humor, was very proud of his military background, and loved his family.

Other colleagues shared similar memories of Hixon.

"Chris is such a great guy," Coral Springs High School athletic director and wrestling coach Dan Jacob told the Sun-Sentinal. "Chris is probably the nicest guy I have ever met. He would give you the shirt off his back. He does so much. That is terrible that it would happen to anybody. It is so senseless."

Last year, Hixon was named Broward County Athletic Association's Athletic Director of the year, the newspaper reports.

Jason Stein, athletic director at neighboring Taravella High School, told the Sun-Sentinal that Hixon was survived by his wife and a son with special needs.

"It is devastating," Stein told the newspaper. "His son was with him everywhere. Chris epitomized what an athletic director was all about."

Feis and Hixon, May said, are "just great men. ... Everybody trusted them. Everybody knew they were protecting them and had their back."

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When the shooting began yesterday, head football coach Willis May was in his office. He was meeting with four of his players and a couple of college recruiters. May's school walkie-talkie was on during the meeting.

WILLIS MAY: I heard the shot, the first shot. And then I heard on radio somebody said, is that a firecracker? And assistant coach, coach Feis, then said - I heard him say, that's no firecracker. And then Mr. Porter, one of our administrators, comes on hollering, code red, code red. We're into code red, which means complete lockdown.

KELLY: Well, May locked his office, but he wanted to know what was happening, and he wanted to help. He knew his colleagues Chris Hixon, the school's athletic director, and Aaron Feis, who was an assistant football coach and also a security guard - that they would be trying to deal with whatever was happening. So coach May left his office, but he couldn't find his colleagues.

MAY: So I went back in the office. When I went back in the office to check on the kids and the two college coaches, they had told me they'd seen the kid walk across our window.

KELLY: The kid was the shooter. May later found out that athletic director Chris Hixon didn't make it. And the last time Willis May heard from his assistant coach, Aaron Feis, was over that walkie-talkie. He says Feis was killed trying to shield a student from the gunman.

MAY: From what I was told, coach Feis jumped in front of her and kind of was trying to push her back to get between her and the evil. And I guess he got shot right then.

KELLY: How long had you worked with him?

MAY: Six years, six years. He's been to school - he graduated there, and he's been assistant coach ever since he graduated.

KELLY: Oh, he was a student and graduated six years ago.

MAY: He was a student there. Yes, ma'am.

KELLY: From what you know of him having worked with him, does it surprise you to learn that he apparently...

MAY: No, ma'am.

KELLY: ...Died trying to shield students?

MAY: No, ma'am. No, that's what he did, and Chris Hixon, too. Both of them - no, that's what they do. They're great men. They're just - that's how they were. I mean, everybody loved them. Everybody trusted them. Everybody knew that they were protecting them. And people say that they're a hero for - they're a hero every day. Them guys were a hero every day. If we have a fight in the school, they're first there, taking care of it. They did that every day - every day. That's - they're the first there, and that's what they do. And they were wonderful at it.

KELLY: Chris Hixon, the athletic director - you know, what should we know about him if you were trying to describe him to somebody who'd never met him?

MAY: Great man, great man.

KELLY: Yeah.

MAY: Great man, great sense of humor; hard worker, very hard worker; family man, loved his family; very proud military guy. He was our - he also took over the wrestling job because he loved it, because he just loved being with them kids. You know, it's hard to be AD and a coach, but he did it because he just loved it so much. And he'd get out there and wrestle with them. And he was just - he was a hard guy, but he was very easy to get along with if you just did what you were supposed to do, you know?

KELLY: Can you give me a sense when you woke up this morning what was going through your mind, how you're trying to process this and help your students make sense of it?

MAY: How can I help? I'm trying to figure out a way I can help my community and help my kids. You know, you can't quit, can't lay down. We've got to, you know, keep fighting, get up.

KELLY: Have your students been calling you?

MAY: Yeah, yeah. My phone's just crazy with former students.

KELLY: And what are they asking?

MAY: If I'm OK. You know, is coach Feis' family OK? Is there anything they can do, just checking on me, checking on - asking them if they're OK.

KELLY: Are you OK? I mean, what's the answer to what they're asking?

MAY: (Laughter) I don't know if I am. I don't know. Thank you for that. I'm all right, you know, sad - unbelievably sad.

KELLY: Coach May, thank you so much for taking the time.

MAY: Yep, thank you.

KELLY: Willis May is the head football coach at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He was remembering his colleagues Chris Hixon and Aaron Feis, 2 of the 17 people killed in yesterday's shooting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.