HOLLYWOOD (CBSMiami) – It was Valentine’s Day, four years ago, when Debbi Hixon’s life was shattered forever. On February 14, 2018, her husband Chris Hixon, the Athletic Director at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school was shot to death, trying to disarm a school shooter. Hixon and 16 others died in the mass shooting.
For Debbi Hixon, losing the center of her life has been life altering.
“Christopher was that person who walked in and filled a room,” says Hixon speaking from the back patio of the Hollywood home she grew up in and shared with her husband for nearly 30 years.
There was a military makeover done in the backyard a few years back, with a garden installed and placards honoring her husband’s memory placed next to a seating area.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever started the grieving process,” she says reflecting on the four years since the calamity.
Hixon is now mother and father to their special needs son, Corey.
She wonders how Corey has processed the sudden death of his dad and how he has been forced to cope with the sudden loss. Hixon’s older son Tommy is in the military and travels home when he can.
To deal with her trauma, Debbi Hixon never stops.
“So, I’m busy, busy, busy, all day until I go to sleep and wake up again. And then I’m busy, busy, busy again. I think if I stop, I won’t be able to start again,” she told CBS4’s Joan Murray.
When asked about the day that changed everything, Debbi Hixon doesn’t hesitate. It’s as if it occurred yesterday.
“I was in my office, and I saw the bulletin come over the television. I called Chris’s phone. Somebody answered and said ‘Chris has been shot. I can’t talk,’ and hung up.”
Eventually she was told to go to the Marriott Hotel in Parkland that was being used as a reunification center. She says she wasn’t given any information.
“And then I started getting text messages that said so sorry for your loss,” she recalled.
Frustrated, she went to North Broward Hospital where some of the victims had been taken. She says there was a work shift change happening and no one could tell her anything.
“Finally, I had a meltdown and said to the nurse, ‘I know he’s dead. I just need to know if he’s here or at the coroner’s office’.” Soon afterwards, she was told her husband’s body was at the medical examiner’s office.
In the four years since she lost her life partner, Hixon has tried to stay positive and push forward. She’s grateful to the many people who have stepped in to try to help her deal with the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting.
She always wears a pendant given to her anonymously that has a picture of Chris. On her forearm is an image of a cardinal. For Debbi and her husband, cardinals were a “sign someone was thinking of you.” In the center of a picture is the number 14 engraved on her arm. The number was special to the Hixson’s.
“Fourteen was Chris’s team number in high school. He graduated high school on the 14th. He went into the Navy on the 14th. We were married on the 14th. And he died on the 14th.”
That morning, they exchanged Valentine’s messages. Chris Hixon told Debbi and their son Corey he would join them later that night for Ash Wednesday services at Nativity Catholic Church. Then he left for school.
Two years after the tragedy, Debbi Hixon got a phone call asking if she would run for the Broward School board ‘at large’ seat representing the whole County.
She says she is still astonished she was asked but is grateful she has the opportunity to help teachers after spending 31 years of her life in the classroom.
It’s a big district and one of her goals is to visit every public school. She has made it to over 100 so far and expects to reach that milestone. She wants to be a voice for teachers and bridge what she calls ‘the disconnect” between the district and schools.
Running for office was a total departure from what she thought her life would like at this point in time.
Hixon remembers coming home after a particularly grueling day on the campaign trail and seeking refuge in the backyard pool. A place she found solace with her husband.
“We used to be in the pool, and he would kiss me on the forehead. And I opened my eyes and he said keep going. You’re kicking ass. And I thought, I guess I’m not quitting.”