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Remembering Chris Hixon, Navy Veteran and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Athletic Director

My father, Chris Hixon, was a 27-year Navy veteran who served on both active duty and in the reserves and was deployed at sea during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. A little over four years after he retired from the Naval Reserve, he was killed during the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL on February 14th, 2018. 

During the latter part of his Navy career, my father served as a Master-at-Arms, the Navy’s military police rating. This means he had trained to respond during active shooter scenarios—and that is exactly what he did on that tragic Valentine’s Day. 

He was the first person to respond to the sound of gunshots in the 1200 building and, just one minute into the shooter’s killing spree, he confronted the shooter on the first floor. Coral Springs Police officers entered the building approximately 11 minutes later, where they found my father bleeding out, but still conscious and trying to get up. 

On that day, my father was both a Campus Security Monitor, putting to use his Navy skills, and the Athletic Director at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, as he had been for the last four years. My father coached several sports that did not have coaches so that students wouldn’t have to go a year without their sports. This caring nature wasn’t new to my father, who had been working for Broward County Public Schools for about 25 years and the entirety of my childhood. His dedication to his job and his students meant that he came home most nights to dinner in the microwave, because he had been attending sporting events, ensuring the students, coaches, trainers, referees, and first responders all had what they needed.

This is just an abbreviated version of my father’s story—because it goes without saying that he was also an amazing dad to me and my brother, a great husband to my mom, a dedicated coach and mentor to students, and a friend to many. 

He was the inspiration for my own military service in the United States Marine Corps, where he presented me with my first salute when I commissioned—a time-honored tradition among military officers where the enlisted member who mentored them the most presents them with their first salute as an officer. In reminiscing on my father’s life after he was murdered, we eulogized that he was, “An extraordinary man living an ordinary life.” 

However, Chris Hixon was not the only person murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School: 16 others were killed and 17 more were wounded by the killer’s gunshots. 

Tragically, the majority of those killed and wounded were students. Alongside them were two adults killed in addition to my father: Scott Beigel and Aaron Feis. Scott was a teacher and the cross-country coach; he was killed on the third floor of the 1200 building trying to close his door after ushering students in the hallway into his classroom. Aaron was an assistant football coach and campus monitor who died as he was opening the door to the 1200 building. Unfortunately at the same time, the shooter was passing the door and killed Aaron where he stood in the doorway—Aaron never made it into the building to help. 

But while three men died on that day trying to help and save students from a murderer, the majority of news coverage around the shooting focused solely on the students who were killed, often incorrectly referring to the victims as “17 students.” 

Amid my family’s own grief and funeral plans for my father, we also had to take time to reach out to news stations and reporters to ask them to correct their stories to accurately reflect that it was 14 students and three staff members killed on February 14, 2018, or to ask them to change “grieving parents” to “grieving families.” Most, if not all, of these outlets were understanding and responsive in making the changes. However, the next time the tragedy was referenced on the news, the language returned to referring solely to the students and their parents. 

This has continued for the last six years. Now, when the local news stations in Broward County run a story about the tragedy and receive a call from my mother, they know she’s calling to correct them—and yet they still forget to make these language shifts the next time they talk about the Parkland shooting. I’ve corrected numerous reporters and people on social media who make the same errors or incorrectly state that my father was my brother because they assume everyone killed at the high school was a student. 

My dad sacrificed himself for those students, not just on February 14th, 2018, but every day since he was 18 as he served his country and his community in both the military and Broward County Public Schools. His loss weighs on our family every day, and we feel this weight even more when he is mislabeled. Chris Hixon, Scott Beigel, and Aaron Feis deserve to be properly remembered by all—and not only when our family decides to correct a news report.   

My ask is to simply do the research and know who was killed in a school shooting before discussing it publicly. The vast majority of school shootings have taken the lives of teachers or staff in addition to students. If you don’t know the details, it is more honoring to all those impacted by tragedies like these to use safer language such as “X number of people killed or wounded” instead of “X number of students killed or wounded,” and to refer to their “grieving families” instead of just their “grieving parents.” 

Gun violence affects all of us: It is not only experienced by kids and parents, and it can happen anywhere, at any time. While I know no one is intentionally leaving my father out of the narrative around the Parkland shooting, it is still disrespectful to my family’s loss and our pain to see him—or Scott and Aaron—not included in conversations, condolences, or remembrances of the tragedy. When it comes to honoring the adult victims of school shootings, we must do better.

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