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Thursday, June 25, 2009
Becker has criminal background news services

PARKERSBURG, Iowa -- When a fatal tornado ripped through the rural Iowa town Ed Thomas called home, the local football coach became the driving force behind rebuilding.

As a trusted and active church member, he encouraged the tiny community to have faith.

Parkersburg will need that faith as its residents struggle to comprehend the violent death of the longtime high school football coach -- one that police said came at the hands of a former player.

"This is way worse than the tornado we went through," said Larry Pruisner, whose two grandsons played for Thomas. "Those things we can rebuild. We're not going to get Ed back. He's gone."

Investigators say Mark Becker, 24, walked past about 20 students prior to 8 a.m. local time before firing at Thomas, who was supervising a summer weightlifting session.

Police said Becker shot Thomas multiple times, including once at close range to the head, then retreated from the red barn that serves as the weight room as the high school is being rebuilt. No other students were hurt.

Becker fled the scene, and was arrested shortly thereafter in the driveway of his parents' home and charged with first-degree murder. Bond was set at $1 million, and Becker is being held at Cerro Gordo County Jail in Mason City, about 40 miles northwest of Parkersburg. His next scheduled court appearance is July 2.

Funeral arrangements

Redman-Schwartz Funeral Homes released information on services for former Aplington-Parkersburg football coach Ed Thomas. Funeral services are set for 10:30 a.m. local time Monday, June 29, at First Congregational Church in Parkersburg. Burial will take place at Oak Hill Cemetery, also in Parkersburg. Visitation will be from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. local time Sunday at First Congregational Church.

Susan Flander, supervisor of the public defender's office in Mason City, was appointed to represent Becker.

Flander declined Thursday to discuss the case but speculated that Becker was moved to Cerro Gordo County because the Butler County Jail isn't "up to speed to house someone with a Class A felony."

The motive, in the meantime, remains unclear.

"Motive is another one of those areas that, it's just too early to speculate on," said Dave Winker, of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.

Butler County Sheriff Jason Johnson said Becker did not have a gun permit, and investigators did not provide details on where the gun came from, only that "it was a gun he had access to," the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported.

Court records indicate Becker has been arrested for drunken driving, assault and possession of drug paraphernalia, and in January, he admitted to police to being a methamphetamine user.

Where The Faith Is

From June 25: On the field named after the fallen coach, former players and students, town residents, and believers in miracles gathered to mourn and remember a man who insisted on his town's resurrection. Story

Thomas, who was 58, was considered one of the bedrocks of Parkersburg. He served as Aplington-Parkersburg's football coach for 34 years, became the school's athletic director, was a social studies teacher and driving instructor, oversaw Sunday school classes, and served as an elder at First Congregational Church -- where the Becker family also belongs.

Mark Becker was an offensive lineman on Thomas' team through 2003; Becker's father, Dale, was a captain of one of Thomas' squads in the 1970s.

"The whole church cares for both families. I don't know that there are any sides, but just trying to care for them," associate pastor Phillip Jensen told the Des Moines Register.

On Saturday, June 20, Mark Becker embarked on an evening of violence. It started when he allegedly took a baseball bat to the Cedar Falls home of Dwight Rogers, one of whose sons graduated in the same class as Becker.

After slamming his car into the house's garage door, Becker led police on a high-speed chase that crossed three counties, ending in Parkersburg, when he hit a deer while traveling at about 90 mph, according to police.



He was admitted early Sunday to Covenant Medical Center in Waterloo -- the very hospital Thomas was flown to and pronounced dead Wednesday.

Cedar Falls police said they believed Becker would undergo a psychiatric evaluation at the hospital, and that their department would be notified when he was released so he could be charged in connection with the events at Rogers' house.

However, Becker was released from the hospital Tuesday, but police said they were never notified. Police would not say whether Becker left the medical facility on his own or with someone he knew.

"We're still investigating the exact sequence of events," Butler County Attorney Greg Lievens said, according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Looking back at Thomas

From 2008: After a tornado ripped through Parkersburg, Iowa, the town realized that one of the best patches of new grass needs to be at the football field -- the one Ed Thomas coached on. Story
E:60: Sacred acreVideoPhoto Gallery

Covenant Medical Center in Waterloo said in a statement Thursday that it did treat Becker, but that its staff had not been asked to notify authorities before releasing him.

In addition to the first-degree murder charge in the death of Thomas, Becker also faces second-degree felony charges of criminal mischief and eluding, according to the Cedar Falls police.

According to Iowa newspaper reports, Becker was convicted of drunken driving in 2005. He also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor serious assault and fourth-degree criminal mischief in two separate incidents in November and December of 2008, and was fined, sentenced to 90 days in jail, and received a year of probation. However, all but four days of the jail sentence were suspended.

In January, Becker was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia after a sheriff's deputy found him with a glass meth pipe and a digital scale during a traffic stop, according to court records.

Becker, who admitted to using meth, pleaded guilty and was fined, according to court records.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.