Ed Thomas shot, killed inside school
PARKERSBURG, Iowa -- Ed Thomas, who produced four NFL linemen as the football coach at tiny Aplington-Parkersburg High, was shot and killed Wednesday inside the school's weight room, authorities said.
The gunman, identified by authorities as 24-year-old Mark Becker, is a former student who played football for Thomas.
Thomas was shot multiple times just before 8 a.m. local time, authorities said. About 50 students were in the school, including several in the weight room, at the time. School was not in session, and no one else was injured in the attack.
Thomas, the 2005 NFL High School Football Coach of the Year, was airlifted to Covenant Medical Center in Waterloo, where he died, his family said in a statement. He was 58.
Becker, who was to have gone to a hospital psychiatric ward after allegedly leading police on a high-speed chase Saturday, is accused of unloading several rounds into Thomas as the coach held an offseason workout with students Wednesday morning, said Kevin Winker, assistant director of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. Becker was arrested in the driveway of his parents' home soon afterward.
Cedar Falls Police Chief Jeff Olson says he was told Butler County Sheriff's deputies would take Becker to the ward after he took a baseball bat to a Cedar Falls home and led police on a chase Saturday night.
The Sheriff's Office declined to comment on whether deputies took Becker to the ward.
Olson says Becker was released from custody at some point but that his department wasn't notified.
Becker was arrested shortly after the shooting and charged with first-degree murder, authorities said. He is being held in Butler County Jail on $1 million bond with a preliminary hearing set for July 2.
Winker said he couldn't discuss what Becker's motive might have been or what he was doing in the days leading up to the shooting.
"Motive is one of those things we're looking into," Winker said.
The district's superintendent and a guidance counselor were meeting with students who were in the weight room at the time of the shooting.
"No kids were hurt, we're thankful for that," superintendent Jon Thompson told KOEL radio. "They did witness this and so we have counselors at the site to talk with the kids."
The school is in Parkersburg, about 80 miles northeast of Des Moines.
Court records also show that Becker pleaded guilty in Black Hawk County last winter to charges of assault causing injury, possession of drug paraphernalia and criminal mischief in the fourth degree. On the assault charge, Becker served a four-day jail term with the remaining 86 days suspended, the Des Moines Register reported.
Several hundred mourners gathered Wednesday night at the school's football stadium -- which is named for Thomas -- to mourn his death.
Pastors told those who attended a candlelight vigil to pray and seek God's guidance following the death of Ed Thomas, who was remembered by players, friends and neighbors as a deeply religious husband and father. "Lord, we summon you as people and a community that is bruised and battered," said Phillip Jensen, pastor at First Congregational Church, where Thomas served as a church elder. Parkersburg recently commemorated the first anniversary of a tornado that wiped out about a third of the town, killing six people and destroying the high school and football field.
"His legacy for many will be associated with his tremendous success as a football coach," said Green Bay Packers linebacker Aaron Kampman. "However, I believe his greatest legacy comes not in how many football games he won or lost but in the fact that he was a committed follower of Jesus Christ."
One of Thomas' sons said he was most proud of his involvement in church. Aaron Thomas thanked the community for its support.
"Obviously, with the shocking events of today, nothing can prepare you for what our family and the community is going through," Aaron Thomas said at an afternoon news conference.
He also asked people to keep Becker's family in their thoughts.
"We ask that people pray for them as well, as they are also going through a lot," he said.
Meester said he revered Thomas almost as a father figure, and that his high school coach got the most out of each of his players.
"It's just the stuff that he taught every one of us, stuff that I'll never forget," Meester said in a statement. "The value of hard work, pride in what you do and just caring about the guy beside you and that's what he did."
DeVries said in a statement: "Aside from my own father and mother, no one had a more profound impact on my life than Coach Thomas. He truly was like a second father to me and to the hundreds of players from our community he coached over the years.
"He truly epitomized everything that is good about high school football and all the things it can teach young men."
Thomas amassed a 292-84 record and two state titles in 37 seasons as a head coach -- 34 at Aplington-Parkersburg.
Thomas made national headlines last year when he insisted that the high school's football field be rebuilt as a way to help restore community pride in Parkersburg after the tornado.
"A lot of people know Coach Thomas for his success as a football coach, but a lot of people here locally know him as a person, as a dad and grandfather, and that's where our thoughts are right now, with Coach Thomas," Thompson said.
Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, who was once a high school teacher and coach in Des Moines, said he was stunned by the shooting.
"As a former high school football coach, I've always had great admiration and respect for Coach Thomas," Culver said in a statement. "The state and national coaching fraternity has suffered a devastating loss. As we mourn the passing of Coach Thomas, it is my hope we can all continue to learn from his example."
Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz said Thomas' murder was a "tragic loss."
"He was a highly respected educator, coach, mentor and a strong leader in the community, as well as the coaching community throughout Iowa," Ferentz said. "Ed loved his family and his work, and was an outstanding, selfless person who has impacted countless lives in a very positive way.
"Our entire staff and team extend our deepest sympathies to the Thomas family and the community of Parkersburg."
Paul Rhoads, Iowa State's new football coach, said in a statement that Thomas was one of the first people to call him when he accepted the Cyclones job last December. Rhoads said Thomas was an Iowa coaching legend and "the best of people."
"His leadership set an example for us and his legacy will live on in the thousands of people he has touched in and out of the classroom and on and off the field," Rhoads said.
Toby Lorenzen, head coach at Central Lyon High School in Rock Rapids in northwestern Iowa, said the killing was a shock to people in high school football programs throughout Iowa.
"He was one of the most down-to-earth, well-respected coaches around," Lorenzen said.
Richard Wulkow, executive director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association, said in a statement that Thomas embodied what a coach should be.
"He will be forever remembered not so much for his many wins on the field, but for the exemplary manner in which he coached kids and led the Aplington-Parkersburg community and school. This was especially true last spring and summer as they rebuilt from a devastating tornado," Wulkow said.
In 2005, a Texas high school football coach was shot by an angry parent who walked into the school fieldhouse and fired a single bullet into Gary Joe Kinne's stomach. The gunman's son played on the Canton High School football team with Kinne's son, who was the star quarterback.
Kinne survived. The shooter, Jeff Doyle Robertson, was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.