Baseball may have saved the life of high school baseball coach Todd Fitz-Gerald on Wednesday.
Some of the shootings that left 17 dead and at least 14 wounded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., were across the hall from Fitz-Gerald’s science classroom. At the time, however, he was at the baseball office, about 300 yards from the school, preparing for practice.
“I didn’t hear the alarm,” he said. “I heard a couple of pops first. Then, one of the kids whose parent is a police officer knew something was going on and he took off. He went to get a kid who was shot in the ankle and brought him to the baseball office where I was and we brought him into the clubhouse until the medics got there.”
His next concern was about his sons. Hunter is a junior third baseman at Stoneman Douglas and the other, Devin, attends Westglades Middle School, across the street from Stoneman Douglas.
“(Hunter) was in the school when it happened,” Fitz-Gerald said. “The first thing I did was text him and ask him if he was OK. He said, ‘Yes, there’s a fire alarm’ and I said, ‘No, there’s a shooter.’ I told him to text me when he was safe. He texted me when they were being evacuated off campus. Devin was safe because his school was in lockdown.”
Police have arrested a suspect in the shooting, Nikolas Cruz, 19.
“I knew who he was,” he said. “I know all the kids at the school pretty much. I believe he was in my class a couple of years ago.”
Fitz-Gerald has been a coach and teacher for 24 years. He was the ALL-USA Baseball Coach of the Year in 2008 when he led American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.) to a state title and he coached Stoneman Douglas to a state title in 2016. He said the death toll could have been higher except that the school had disaster training six weeks ago.
“We were as prepared as we could be,” he said. “They did a good job of giving us the right protocol. You lock the door and hunker down and get away from all the windows.”
Fitz-Gerald said the shootings will make the school tighter-knit. When he got home Wednesday evening, he hugged his wife and children and took calls and texts from former players, 15 of whom have been drafted by Major League teams.
“It’s a shame that it takes something like this to bring people together,” he said. “Why can’t we be closer together from the beginning?
“Obviously, today we’re in mourning. You have to be resilient. . . . It’s going to be tough. We met with our (team) this morning. We cried, we bonded and we hugged. We let them know we love them but they also have a responsibility to be strong for the student body.”