He wasn’t just the school’s football coach, Aaron Feis was also a life coach to the thousands of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school.
On Feb. 14, 37-year-old Feis, a loving father, husband and security monitor, was shot to death by the former student, 19, whom he had often dealt with. Remembered as a big teddy bear and father figure to students, Feis, who was one of the 17 people killed at the Parkland, Florida, campus, was mourned by loved ones and shooting survivors during an emotional memorial service held at the Church by the Glades in Coral Springs, Florida.
Four of Feis’ pallbearers were football players wearing their jerseys. The 1999 MSD graduate is survived by his wife Melissa and 8-year-old daughter Ariel.
“We throw around the words hero and heroic pretty easily. We’re not just celebrating a husband, father, brother, coach and friend. We’re celebrating a hero,” pastor David Hughes said to the packed church, according to the Miami Herald.
Feis was among the first to respond to the gunfire, racing to the scene in his security golf cart before sprinting after the alleged gunman on foot. Survivors told the Herald that Feis shielded students from the bullets and pushed at least one girl out of the alleged shooter’s line of sight.
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“Before you even heard how he died, you knew he died putting himself in harm’s way to save others. That’s who he was,” Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said in his speech. “[He died] running toward danger while others were correctly running away from danger,” continued Israel, who was alongside Feis as a volunteer football coach when his two sons attended MSD.
“Feis had no gun, no rifle. And yet he ran toward helping students. He was just such a great individual. I can’t remember anyone calling him Aaron. It was Feis — kind of like saying LeBron or Michael,” the sheriff said, adding, “Head coaches have come and gone but what’s the one constant? Big Feis. Kids would do more for Feis because they never wanted to let him down.”
During the service, Feis’ grieving father Louis recited a letter he had received from a stranger in Spokane, Washington, who heard about the shooting and was moved by his son’s “act of bravery toward the students who saw evil in its purest form and then saw love in its purest form from Mr. Feis.”
“He always wanted to be the best dad he could be. He was the epitome of what a hardworking husband and father should be,” said Corona.
Also in attendance at the funeral were Gov. Rick Scott as well as former Miami Dolphins players Jason Taylor and Sam Madison.
“He would do it again in a heartbeat,” his brother, Raymond Feis, told PEOPLE. His sister, Johanna Feis, added, “Everything he did that day was in character for him.”
Longtime friend, Dan Maurer, echoed: “He dealt with hundreds of kids every single year. I never heard a mean thing come out of his mouth. Big guy, big heart – and his heart was so much bigger.”
Three days after the mass shooting, MSD head football coach Willis May gave a moving tribute to Feis on Good Morning America.
“He didn’t need to get shot to be a hero. He was a hero every day because people looked up to him, respected him,” May said. “It’s not a high-paying job but if you can change somebody’s life, you know, and make him into a better person, that’s what it’s all about.”