A security guard and assistant football coach who shielded a student from oncoming gunfire was among the 17 people fatally shot by a former student who opened fire at a Florida high school Wednesday.
Aaron Feis died in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the football team announced on Twitter early Thursday morning.
“It is with Great sadness that our Football Family has learned about the death of Aaron Feis,” the post reads. “He was our Assistant Football Coach and security guard. 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.”
Echoing what others had said Wednesday on social media, football coach Willis May told the Orlando Sentinel that he had heard Feis had put his life in danger when he shielded a female student from the shooter and pushed her out of the way.
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As one of the security staff, Feis responded to the initial call on the school’s security radio walkie-talkies, May said. When someone asked on the radio if the sounds booming through the hallways were firecrackers, “I heard Aaron say, ‘No, that is not firecrackers,” said May, who was also listening to the security radio.
“That’s the last I heard of him,” May said.
His death has left his students, friends and family devastated. “I am heartbroken,” his cousin, Lori Carter tells PEOPLE. “He wasn’t just my cousin. He was my best friend and my advisor, if you will. He always took the time to listen and gave me the best advice.”
He died, she says, “while trying to take the weapon from the shooter.”
Always willing to help others, her cousin loved being a coach and a security guard and “died doing what he loved to do,” she says.
Still, he leaves behind a young daughter. “He loved her dearly,” she says.
May also spoke glowingly of his fallen colleague to the Sentinel.
“Big ol’ teddy bear,” May said. “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.”
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Feis graduated from the school in 1999 and played center for the football team, according to a short biography on the Douglas football team’s website,
He returned to Douglas in 2002 and became head coach of the junior varsity team. After that, he coached the linemen for the JV and varsity teams and coordinates the players’ college recruitment. He had a wife and a daughter, according to the biography.
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Douglas football team member Charlie Rothkopf wrote on Twitter, “Can everyone please take a second to pray for my coach today he took serval bullets covering other students at Douglas.”
“He was a great guy,” Douglas sophomore lineman Gage Gaynor told the Sentinel. “Everyone loved him. Shame he had to go like this. Always gave his all to making us better. Definitely learned a lot from him.”
Feis leaves behind a wife and daughter, according to the school bio.