Some folks believe Aaron Feis embodied “love in its purest form.”
Others described the assistant football coach at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as a “gentle giant,” and “a humble, sweet person who loved his school and would do anything for the kids,” the Miami Herald reports.
Hundreds of students, family, community members, and public officials attended a funeral service last month to honor the 37-year-old fixture at Stoneman Douglas who selfishly shielded students from gunfire during the recent deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Feis, a 1999 Stoneman Douglas graduate, started work at the school as a custodian, and was later promoted to security guard. A physically imposing man, with a bald head and fiery red beard, Feis patrolled the school grounds in a golf cart, greeting the school’s 3,200 students as they arrived and departed each day, the Herald reports.
But Feis’s appearance belied his tender and loyal nature, and many students and others at his service reflected on how he impacted their lives well before the February 14 shooting that ended his life, and the lives of 16 other students and staff.
Witnesses report Feis bolted toward the gunfire and draped himself over two students to act as a human shield during the melee, a final selfless act many said defined his selfless character.
“Coach Feis was more than just my coach or a security guard, because I saw him more than I saw my own parents every day,” Stoneman Douglas grad Johnathan Sevog told the Herald. “I’d see him from 8 a.m. till 9, 9:30 p.m. every day and he was such a mentor and even father figure for me cause he just taught me so much.”
“It was so tragic losing him because I know how good of a man he was and I know how much he did for everybody, not only me,” he said. “He was honestly something special. It may not seem like he did much, because he was just a security guard and football coach, but he touched more lives . . . than most people do in their whole life.”
Elliott Bonner, a Stoneman Douglas coach and security guard who worked with Feis for years, said “he knew he was making a difference.”
“He was like a life coach,” he said. “We tried to teach kids about life after Douglas, life in the real world.”
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel also shared his experience coaching alongside Feis while his sons attended Stoneman Douglas.
“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,” Israel said.
Student Brandon Corona told the Herald that Feis spent countless hours creating highlight videos for players and sending them to colleges, driving the bus for several sports, and giving kids rides home.
When Feis cut Corona from the JV football team, he was “embarrassed and hurt,” but Feis “took me aside and said, ‘I don’t see that you believe in yourself yet, but when you do you’ll be starting for me next year,’” Corona said. “He had a vision for me that I didn’t have,” Corona said.
Custodians, security guards, assistant football coaches, and other school staff are often overlooked in the role that they play in inspiring and forming strong character in students, but research from the School Cultures and Student Formation Project shows it can be significant.
“What these case studies . . . consistently show is the importance of the informal articulation of a moral culture through the example of teachers and other adults in the school community,” editors James Davison Hunter and Ryan S. Olson wrote. “As a rule, students want their teachers to think well of them and respect them, and they recognize teachers as role models as they do other adults, such as coaches, administrators, and parents.”
On February 14, Feis transformed his role from respected mentor to hero with what one mourner described as an “act of bravery toward the students who saw evil in its purest form and then saw love in its purest form from Mr. Feis.”
“Aaron Feis has been a hero to many people for a long time,” former coach Mike Verden said at the recent service. “The beauty of Feb. 14 is how the world gets to know him.”