Football coach Aaron Feis was laid to rest Thursday before hundreds of mourners who gave thanks for his bravery in shielding students from gunfire during last week's high school shooting in Florida.
"Before you even heard how he died, you knew he died putting himself in harm's way to save others," said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. "That's who was."
The 37-year-old father, a great bear of a man, put his considerable frame between alleged shooter Nikolas Cruz and terrified teens at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14.
He was one of 17 people killed in a fusillade of bullets from an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle purchased legally by Cruz, according to authorities.
The popular assistant coach was killed "running toward danger while others were correctly running away from danger," Israel said.
"Feis had no gun, no rifle. And yet he ran toward helping students," the sheriff said. "He was just such a great individual."
Israel praised him as "one of the greatest people I knew. I coached with him. My two boys played for him. The kids in this community loved him, adored him."
The school's football team walked into the service two by two, holding hands, in a demonstration of solidarity. They later acted as pallbearers.
Family friend Brandon Corona said Feis was his mentor while he was a student and described him as patient and kind. He gave students rides home and "was a counselor to those who had no father figure," he said.
The coach had attended Stoneman Douglas and met his wife there. He is survived by her and their young daughter. "He always wanted to be the best dad he could be. He was the epitome of what a hardworking husband and father should be," Corona said.
His football team posted on Twitter: "He died a hero and he will forever be in our hearts and memories."
Ryan Mackman said he graduated with Feis in 1999.
"He was always a really good guy," he said. "He was always a giving guy, he was always there for people, he had a big heart. That showed all the way to the end."