Tributes to Chris Hixon are everywhere in the home the slain athletic director at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shared with his wife for 28 years. There's a new tree in the front yard, which blooms with yellow flowers — his favorite color. An "MSD Strong" flag flies from the roof. Artwork, including two donated portraits, hangs on the walls.
"Chris was an extraordinary person living an ordinary life," his widow, Debbi Hixon, told NBC 6.
The U.S. Navy veteran, who also served as the school's wrestling coach, ran unarmed into the freshman building and never came out. Hixon was shot and killed while trying to shield students from oncoming bullets.
The killing that day was at random, but the devastation it caused was personal.
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"That's probably the hardest part for me, you try to figure out why, and there will never be a why, it'll never make sense," Debbi Hixon said.
Debbi lost her soulmate. Her sons, 26-year-old Tom Hixon and 23-year-old Corey Hixon, who has a developmental disability, lost their dad.
“You know, I have Corey, and Corey is so awesome but it's a lot of work,” Debbi Hixon said. “There's a lot of decisions that go into taking care of him and Chris and I always made those decisions together. You second guess yourself and you wonder, 'Am I doing the right thing?' And Chris was always the person that brought me down off the ledge."
Now, Debbi Hixon relies on professional counseling, talking to her son Tom, who lives in California, on Skype, and sharing her feelings with other families who lost loved ones in the massacre. She said they're the only people who truly understand.
"The anger, and just the pure unbelievableness of what happened that day, is really hard to explain to somebody," Debbi Hixon said.
To honor her late husband’s memory, the family started the Chris Hixon Athletic Scholarship. It benefits one student-athlete per year from each of the three school’s which Hixon served as athletic director during his career. The funds are awarded annually to a student from Stoneman Douglas, South Broward and Blanche Ely. A 5K run to raise money for the scholarship fund will be held on February 16th in Hollywood. Participants can register at Chris Hixson Memorial Run/Walk.
"We're trying to do positive things to remember Chris because to us, he was a hero every single day. He was that person who stepped up regardless and never wanted the accolades or someone to toot his horn," Debbi Hixon said.
And while channeling her grief into a worthy cause helps her cope, Debbi Hixon said one year, five years, and not even a lifetime would be enough to recover emotionally.
"You know, there's gonna be a hole in our life forever and that will never heal,” Debbi Hixon said. “I don't know if you actually ever heal from something like that.”