As more details emerge from the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., at least three educators have been identified as victims—they died protecting their students.
Seventeen people were killed when a former student opened fire at the school on Wednesday, and several more were injured. The full list of names of the deceased has not yet been released, but media reports have identified several victims.
Geography teacher Scott Beigel, 35, was confirmed by a student to have been shot and killed, after he helped a group of students escape from the shooter.
“He unlocked the door and let us in. I thought he was behind me, ... but he wasn’t,” one student, Kelsey Friend, told Good Morning America. “When he opened the door, he had to re-lock it so that we could stay safe but he didn’t get the chance.”
And Aaron Feis, an assistant football coach and security guard for the school, threw himself in front of students to shield them from gunfire. He suffered a gunshot wound and was rushed into surgery, but he didn’t survive.
“He died the same way he lived—he put himself second,” said the football program’s spokeswoman, Denise Lehtio. “He was a very kind soul, a very nice man. He died a hero.”
A 17-year-old junior and football player, Colton Haab, told CNN that he heard Feis had shielded three girls from the spray of bullets, which he said was typical of Feis’ personality.
"[He] made sure everyone else’s needs were met before his own. He was a hard worker. He worked after school, on the weekends, mowing lawns, just helping as many people as possible,” Haab said. “It’s sad because it’s not going to be the same without him at school anymore, that’s for sure. Football definitely won’t be the same. We’re definitely going to have to band back together as brothers and mourn his loss and pick up the pieces to try to rebuild our football team.”
Athletic director and wrestling coach Chris Hixon, 49, was also shot and killed, according to the Sun Sentinel. His former colleague told the paper that Hixon was a selfless person.
“If you needed something, he was the first one there,” said Allen Held, who worked with Hixon at a nearby high school. “He would do anything as an athletic director to make your program better and he was a better person than athletic director.”
Robert Runcie, the superintendent of Broward County Schools, which includes Stoneman Douglas High, said in an interview that the educators who gave their lives to protect students were the first responders.
“As soon as this was identified on our camera surveillance system, and somebody indicated that something was going wrong, they jumped into position, they got their radios, and they stepped up and put their lives on the line to avert an even larger tragedy,” he said. “So absolutely, [they are] heroes... And we will honor them appropriately in due time. But their families and the community should be proud that they sacrificed themselves so our young people can have an opportunity to have a life and a future.”
According to CNN, several other educators and school-based personnel protected students from the shooter. A janitor diverted a group of students away from the direction of the shooting, and a teacher opened a classroom door so they could hide. Another teacher, Melissa Fakowski, hid 19 students in a closet during the shooting. “This is the worst nightmare that could ever happen to you,” she told CNN.
The attack was reminiscent of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn., where several educators sacrificed their lives for their students, including Victoria Soto, a 1st grade teacher who hid her students in closets and cabinets before a shooter entered the classroom and shot her. At the time, educators across the country reflected on the bravery of those educators and what they would do in a similar situation.
After the Parkland shooting, Education Week Teacher opinion blogger Christina Torres wrote that she doesn’t know how to protect her students anymore.
“How can I tell them that while I’d move mountains for them, I know my body is just as feeble against bullets as theirs?” she wrote.
For teachers who are grappling with how to address this shooting in the classroom, experts have shared advice on what to say to grieving or traumatized students. Phrases like, “Tell me more about what this has been like for you,” give students a safe space to share their feelings.
This post will be updated when more information is released.
(Update: This story was updated with quotes from Superintendent Robert Runcie.)
Denisa Superville contributed reporting to this post.
Images: First: Students are released from a lockdown at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., after a shooting on Feb. 14. --John McCall/Sun Sentinel/TNS. Second courtesy of the school’s football team’s Twitter feed.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.