Final tribute: Murdered football coach is hailed as a ‘hero’

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) — When Joe LaGuardia heard there had been a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he said he knew in the pit of his stomach that his longtime friend Aaron Feis was doing everything possible to save students.

LaGuardia was heading to an Ash Wednesday service when he got news of the shooting.

“There wasn’t a question in my mind that after I finished Ash Wednesday service I had to go and check out Aaron’s Facebook page or get ahold of the family because I know that Aaron would be running to save lives, I just knew it,” LaGuardia said Thursday at Feis’ funeral.

Feis, an assistant football coach and security guard at the school of 3,200 students on the edge of the Florida Everglades, was among 17 gunned down by a former student who police said returned to the school with an AR 15 assault-style rifle just before dismissal on Feb. 14. He entered the freshman building and began shooting into classrooms. Minutes later, he dropped the weapon in a stairwell and fled with other students. He was arrested about an hour later in a neighborhood not far from the school.

Football players wearing Stoneman Douglas jerseys carried Feis’ casket into the Thursday service at the Church of the Glades in Coral Springs where family and friends gathered to remember him as loyal and caring.

Former student Brandon Corona called Feis, 37, “a counselor to those who had no father figure.” He said Feis often worked two or three jobs to make ends meet for his family, and he loved his truck. “His time was infinite when it came to students and athletes,” Corona remembered.

“He was one of the greatest people I know,” LaGuardia said, recalling the times he spent with Feis and his family as he and Feis attended Stoneman Douglas where Feis later went to work.

“I knew that the inspiration that his family and his wife gave him was the strength that allowed him to make a decision in split seconds in order to give his life over to his students, in order to save them, even if it was only three students or a half dozen students. That was the Aaron I know.”

Speaker after speaker hailed Feis as a hero.

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, who had known Feis for years, said head football coaches shuttled in an out at the high school, but each one kept Feis as an assistant.

“Everybody wanted him,” Israel said. “He was the connection to the kids. Kids would do more for Feis than others. Why? Because they didn’t want to let Feis down.”

And everyone said Feis always took care of the students. “Before you even heard how he died, you knew he died putting himself in harms’ way to save others,” Israel said.

Orit Levy, whose three sons graduated from Stoneman Douglas and played football, said Feis was adored. “I can see him taking bullets for these kids.”

(Copyright (c) 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)