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Football coach 'died a hero' shielding students in Florida school shooting

by Scott Stump / / Source: TODAY

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A hero football coach who shielded students from the gunman's fire was among those killed in the mass shooting at a Florida high school on Wednesday that left at least 17 people dead.

The loss of security guard and coach Aaron Feis reverberated through the community at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Thursday after his death was confirmed on a Twitter account run by the school's football team.

"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,'' the team wrote.

Douglas head football coach Willis May told the Sun Sentinel that a female student told him Feis jumped between her and shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz, shoving her out of harm's way through a nearby door.

Feis, a husband and father of a daughter, helped coach the offensive lines on Douglas' varsity and JV football teams, and also served as a campus security monitor.

At a press conference Thursday, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said he knew Feis personally; Israel's two sons were coached by him.

"I don't know when Aaron's funeral is, I don't know how many adults are gonna go, but you'll get 2,000 kids there,'' Israel said. "The kids in this community loved him. They adored him. He was one of the greatest people I knew. He was a phenomenal man.

"And I don't know the specifics yet, but I can tell you what. When Aaron Feis died, when he was killed tragically, inhumanely, he did it protecting others, you can guarantee that, because that's who Aaron Feis was."

Cruz, 19, was arrested in nearby Coral Springs after he fled by blending in with students who were escaping the shooting scene.

He has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. Police said he used an AR-15 style semiautomatic rifle in the massacre.

The school's athletic director, Chris Hixon, was also among those who were killed, Broward County Superintendent of Schools Robert W. Runcie said during a news conference Thursday.

"We had an athletic director, a campus monitor who responded immediately when there was signs of trouble in the school," Runcie said. "Unfortunately those two heroes gave their lives for our kids and probably helped prevent this from being a worse tragedy than it is today."

Charlie Rothkopf, a junior lineman on the football team, tweeted on Wednesday to pray for Feis after learning he had been shot.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also offered his condolences.

Feis was a 1999 graduate of the high school who played center on the football team, according to a bio on the team's website.

"Big ol’ teddy bear," May told the Sun Sentinel. "Hardcore, he coached hard. 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."

Follow TODAY.com writer Scott Stump on Twitter.

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