(PARKLAND, Fla.) — A football coach was killed while “protecting others” at a Florida high school when a former student allegedly opened fire there Wednesday.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel confirmed at a press conference Thursday morning that the coach and campus monitor, Aaron Feis, was among 17 people fatally shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Israel, who said he knew Feis personally, couldn’t provide specifics on the circumstances of his death but said Feis died while saving lives.
“When Aaron Feis died … he did it protecting others, guarantee that because that’s who Aaron Feis was,” Israel told reporters. “He was one of the greatest people I knew. He was a phenomenal man.”
The sheriff described Feis as a beloved football coach who was well-known in the local community.
“I coached with him. My two boys played for him,” Israel said. “The kids in this community loved him, adored him.”
The alleged shooter, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, was arrested for premeditated murder and held without bond Thursday afternoon, authorities said. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School remains closed for the rest of this week, according to Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie.
Cruz had been expelled from the high school for unspecified disciplinary reasons, authorities said. A former classmate and a former teacher told ABC News that Cruz was barred from carrying a backpack on campus prior to his expulsion.
Wednesday’s school shooting is among the deadliest in U.S. history. Cruz allegedly used an AR-15-style rifle that he legally purchased within the past year from a federally licensed dealer, law enforcement officials told ABC News.
Gabrielle Pupo, a student who survived Wednesday’s attack, said she saw Cruz shoot Feis.
“I heard the shots, and then I saw the shooter run after Mr. Feis, and I saw Mr. Feis get shot,” Pupo tearfully told reporters Wednesday night.
Ryan Mackman of West Palm Beach said he grew up in Parkland and was a former classmate of Feis. They both graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 1999, he said.
“I never thought something like this could happen,” Mackman, now 37, told ABC News in a telephone interview Thursday. “The whole community is just stunned.”
Just two days before the shooting, Parkland ranked the 15th safest city in America and one of the safest in Florida in a national survey released by NeighborhoodScout.
Although they didn’t keep in touch much after high school, Mackman said he remembers Feis as a people person and a football fanatic.
Mackman said he heard from other former classmates who were close with Feis that he apparently was shot while shielding students from the spray of bullets.
“He was always a really good guy,” Mackman told ABC News. “But the fact that he died saving lives, the guy’s a hero. There’s no two ways about it. He was always a giving guy, he was always there for people, he had a big heart. That showed all the way to the end.”
Mackman, who works as a business administrator and project manager at Premier Family Health & Wellness in Wellington, some 16 miles from West Palm Beach, said he and some co-workers who also knew Feis are organizing a Red Cross blood donation drive for the victims at their office Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET.
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