A football coach at the Florida high school where a gunman killed at least 17 people is being hailed a hero after reportedly throwing himself in front of students to protect them.
Aaron Feis was taken to hospital in critical condition after the alleged shooter Nikolas Cruz opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County on Wednesday afternoon.
The coach, who also worked as a security guard at the school for at least eight years, was initially said to be fighting for his life. However, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel later announced that “a beloved football coach is dead,” without naming the coach.
“This is one of the genuinely greatest people to walk this earth. jumped in front of the bullets to save some students lives… unbelievable,” Mike Schmidt wrote on Twitter.
“Coaches are always protectors. Today he sacrificed his body for his students. Some heroes wear Gatorade towels over their shoulders,” Anthony DiCicco tweeted.
One former student paid tribute to the coach, posting a picture of him with the caption: “This, ladies and gentlemen, if the face of a hero.”
Andrew Hofmann, a former student who recently coached the swimming and water polo teams, said Mr Feis took his security guard role very seriously.
“He’s very well dedicated to the safety of the school during the daytime,” Hofmann told the Miami Herald.
Hofmann described the coach as “a quiet person” with a good sense of humour. “When there’s a funny joke, he is always laughing for sure,” he said.
Feis graduated from Stoneman Douglas High in 1999 and worked at the school for his entire coaching career, according to the school’s website.
The Valentine’s Day bloodshed began after the assailant, wearing a gas mask, stalked into the school carrying an AR-15 assault rifle, ammunition cartridges and smoke grenades, said Senator Bill Nelson, who had been briefed by federal law enforcement officials.
He then pulled a fire alarm, prompting students and staff to pour from their classrooms into hallways. “There the carnage began,” Senator Bill Nelson told CNN.
The death toll would make it the third-worst school shooting in recent US history after the Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook attacks. It is the 18th school shooting this year, according to campaign group Every Town for Gun Safety.