Higley Unified School District athletic director found dead

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Art Wagner By Mike Gertzman Art Wagner By Mike Gertzman

GILBERT, Ariz. -- The Higley Unified School District athletic director was found dead Wednesday morning from what Gilbert police believe was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

An employee found Art Wagner, 42, just off the Higley High School campus near Pecos and Recker roads between the baseball field and railroad tracks at approximately 8:45 a.m.

The incident was reported to police as a suicide, however, it is still under investigation, according to Sgt. Jesse Sanger.

In a statement, school district officials described Wagner as "a dedicated educator who touched many lives."

“Art Wagner was one of those people that had a good heart, cared about everyone, would do anything, go out of his way to help,” said Higley Unified School District Superintendent Denise Birdwell.

Wagner, who was also the district’s executive director of support services, served as board president of the Arizona Interscholastic Association. Birdwell told 3TV he had just handed out a baseball championship trophy Tuesday night. He was scheduled to receive a special administrator award next month and married another Higley District employee this past March. 

Birdwell said the apparent suicide came without any sort of warning. She told 3TV there were no issues, no pending investigations. However, she did acknowledge he had an extremely heavy workload.

“I know that he was stretched very thin; he was working seven days a week. We had just hired someone to come in and help for next year,” Birdwell said. “There’s no doubt we felt he had too much on his plate.”

Birdwell said the suicide seems out of character and wants to stress to students and staff that resources are available for anyone who may need help.

"This is not an answer; don't choose this option," Birdwell said. "I'm very surprised he chose it because it's not something he would ever promote. He would tell people there's always a place to go, always a resource, always a friend."

Counseling has been made available to students and staff at each of the district's campuses.

Higley Unified School District statement:

"Higley Unified School District is mourning the loss of Mr. Art Wagner, Executive Director of Support Services, who passed away unexpectedly this morning.

"The district is grieving this tremendous loss. Counseling and other support has been made available to anyone who needs it.

"Mr. Wagner was a dedicated educator who touched many lives. We honor his legacy and commitment to education.

"The district is coordinating with the Gilbert Police Department. No further information is available at this time."