Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame Inductee Rick Andreassen was overseeing children at Trade Winds Park in Coconut Creek Fla. on Wednesday, February 14, just two miles away from the deadly shooting that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas School that day.
“At about 2:30 in the afternoon on that Wednesday, we started hearing sirens of ambulances and police cars and things,” said Andreassen, who takes local children to parks with the Saints of Florida Homeschool Physical Education Program and teaches P.E. at the New Covenant Christian School. “Since I was a kid, my mother used to teach us to pray when we heard a siren — she would have the Andreassen kids stop and pray. So we do that to this day with our students — even though the siren was far away, we had the kids stop what they were doing and pray. Because I was with students, I got a text that this incident had happened at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, so we brought children in from the activities. We, naturally, shifted our students to an indoor activity without them even noticing anything. We didn’t know what was going on, whether there was a shooter on the loose or whatever, but we shifted to a Plan B.”
The shooting killed 17 and critically injured 14 more. Andreassen had known Aaron Feis, a school security guard and football coach, since Feis was six years old, within the same school district; Feis was 37 years old when he was fatally shot shielding students during one of the most deadly school shootings in U.S. history.
“I didn’t know Aaron was killed until I saw it on the news two days later. Before they were able to release names they had to notify all family members,” said Andreassen. “I was in shock. I saw Aaron grow up — he married his childhood sweetheart. I was their children’s pastor when they were growing up. I remember when they had their baby nine years ago — they had a little girl.”
According to Andreassen, Feis has touched the lives of “tens of thousands” of kids during his local coaching career for the last 21 years. Over 2000 people waited on line at the viewing before his funeral, necessitating a police presence to direct traffic.
“The world is a better place because of Aaron, and I know my life is better because of Aaron,” said Andreassen. “He was a man of integrity, a respectful father and husband who was so proud to be a coach. He was real genuine, and to see thousands and thousands of kids waiting on that line was incredible. He stood between those kids and the gunman. He literally laid down his life than them. The bible says there’s no greater love to lay down one’s life for a friend, that’s what Jesus did for us and what Aaron did for his students.”
Andreassen says that a woman caught in the Columbine shooting visited the high school last week to counsel students through the grief process; that “wherever you go there are signs and billboards are up…and everyone knows someone who was affected by [the event].”
“I just think that there’s a lot of kids, you know, high school kids that are thinking more about life, and maybe the impact that their lives will have,” said Andreassen. “I see kids by the thousands coming together to support one another, people caring about people. Kids are maybe growing in compassion and caring. Something different is happening.”