Hundreds Mourn Navy Vet, Athletic Director Who Died Trying to Save Students

Debra Hixon follows Navy pallbearers as they carry her husband's casket Feb. 21, 2018. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Debra Hixon follows Navy pallbearers as they carry her husband's casket Feb. 21, 2018. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Chris Hixon was remembered as a loving father and husband, a veteran who was twice deployed to the Persian Gulf, an athletic director and wrestling coach who worked tirelessly for his athletes and, ultimately, as a hero who died trying to save students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

It was at the Parkland school on Feb. 14 that a gunman opened fire, killing Hixon and 16 others. Another 16 people were injured in the shooting.

On Wednesday morning, hundreds of Douglas students -- many wearing the maroon, silver and white jerseys of their respective sports teams -- joined Hixon's family and members of the Broward County schools community, filling every corner of Nativity Catholic Church in Hollywood for a 75-minute funeral Mass that preceded Hixon's burial at South Florida National Cemetery in Lake Worth.

"Just as we pray for Chris' soul and his family, we pray for you," the Rev. David Zirilli told the young mourners at Hixon's funeral, before turning his attention to Hixon's family, specifically, his son, Corey. "All of the people you see, we're here because of you. We want you to know we are with you. You should be very proud of your dad. You were so lucky to have him. ... When his students were in trouble, he didn't run away. He wanted to protect those children. And he did."

Hixon's kind heart and willingness to put others before him were common themes during the 75-minute Mass celebrating his life. The service was attended by Gov. Rick Scott, Archbishop Thomas Wenski, Hollywood mayor Josh Levy and Dania Beach mayor Tamara James, a former basketball player at South Broward, where Hixon, 49, served as athletic director before joining the staff at Douglas.

Hixon, who was also remembered as an avid NASCAR fan and was set to celebrate his 50th birthday on Feb. 25, also previously served as the athletic director at Blanche Ely High.

On Wednesday, staffers from the three schools where he worked and members of multiple branches of the military -- most notably the Navy, in which Hixon served for 27 years -- joined the Hixon family and the Douglas' students and staffers in remembering the beloved athletic director.

"We're all a little bit better for having known Chris," said Frank Valliere, who worked with Hixon at South Broward and spoke at Wednesday's Mass. "He'd give you the shirt off his back. He was there, always, whenever there was a need. ... He cared for all around him as if they were his own. ... And he inspired his students to become coaches, teachers and to serve in the military. ... When we heard [what happened at Douglas], we knew he'd be in the middle of the action."

Then, Valliere addressed the Douglas students, acknowledging many of them have classmates currently in Tallahassee urging state legislators to reform Florida's gun laws.

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This article was written by Christy Cabrera Chirinos from Sun Sentinel and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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