Ed Thomas, a high school football coach who helped launch the careers of four current NFL linemen, was gunned down by a former player Wednesday morning in front of students participating in an offseason workout, authorities in Parkersburg, Iowa said.
|Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office / Associated Press|
|Mark Becker (above) is charged with first-degree murder of Ed Thomas, who coached four current NFL linemen at Aplington-Parkersburg High School in Iowa.|
Mark Becker, who was supposed to have been taken to a hospital psychiatric ward after allegedly leading police on a high-speed chase Saturday night, fired several rounds into Thomas, Aplington-Parkersburg High School's football coach, and was arrested at a nearby home soon afterward, said Kevin Winker, assistant director of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
Winker said he couldn't discuss what Becker's motive for the slaying might have been or what Becker might have been up to in the days before the shooting.
"Motive is one of those things we're looking into," Winker said.
School wasn't in session, and Becker didn't threaten any of the students in the weight room, according to Winker.
Thomas, 58, died at a Waterloo hospital. His shooting stunned the rural community of 1,800 residents 80 miles northeast of Des Moines, and it reverberated through NFL circles.
Thomas, the 2005 NFL High School Coach of the Year, mentored four players who currently are in the league: Green Bay Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman, Jacksonville Jaguars center Brad Meester, Detroit Lions defensive end Jared DeVries and Denver Broncos center Casey Wiegmann.
"Coach Thomas was very special to me and many other young men from the Aplington-Parkersburg communities," Kampman said in a statement released by the Packers. "His legacy for many will be associated with his tremendous success as a football coach. 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."
"He was in meetings when we got the news," McCarthy said. "Itâs a tragedy. Itâs a tremendous loss, and our heart goes out to (Thomas') family."
Meester said he revered Thomas almost as a father figure and that the coach was able to get the most out of each of his players.
"He's one of those guys that truly cared about every player that was in that program," Meester said in a statement released by the Jaguars. "It's just the stuff that he taught every one of us, stuff that I'll never forget. The value of hard work, pride in what you do and just caring about the guy beside you, and that's what he did. He cared for each and every one of us that went through that program."
DeVries and Wiegmann issued similiar statements through their teams. According to DeVries, "Aside from my own father and mother, no one had a more profound impact on my life than Coach Thomas," and Wiegmann said that he learned a lot from his former coach, "both as a player and a man. ... I cannot begin to count the number of lives he affected in this community."
DeVries walked off the field in Allen Park, Mich., toward the end of the team's Wednesday morning practice, shaken after being told of Thomas' death.
One of Thomas' sons said his father was most proud of his involvement in his church, where he served as an elder. Aaron Thomas also thanked the community for its support during an afternoon news conference.
"Obviously, with the shocking events of today, nothing can prepare you for what our family and the community is going through," Aaron Thomas said.
He even 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.
Taylor Schrage, who played for Thomas before moving on to Iowa State, said he grew up with Becker but declined to comment about him further.
Becker, 24, is charged with first-degree murder and was being held in Butler County jail. The sheriff's office said Becker didn't have an attorney, and he wasn't scheduled for arraignment Wednesday.
Phone messages seeking comment from Becker's family members weren't immediately returned.
According to court records, Becker threatened a Cedar Falls homeowner with a baseball bat Saturday night, smashed windows at the home and rammed his car through its garage door before leading police on a high-speed chase.
Cedar Falls Police Chief Jeff Olson said Wednesday that Butler County deputies had arrested Becker on Saturday after a chase through two counties. Deputies agreed to take him to a hospital psychiatric ward and requested that Cedar Falls police be notified when he could be released. Cedar Falls police didn't hear anything more.
"I don't know what happened," Olson said. "I don't know why we didn't hear back."
Winker said Becker had been taken to a Waterloo hospital, but he wouldn't comment on what treatment Becker received or why Cedar Falls wasn't notified of his Tuesday release. Becker spent Tuesday night at his parents' house, according to Jeff Jacobson, a special agent with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
Butler County sheriff's officials weren't available to comment Wednesday.
Phone messages left with the homeowner, Dwight Rogers, weren't immediately returned.
Thomas compiled a career record of 292-84 in 37 seasons -- 34 of them at Aplington-Parkersburg -- and was one of the most well-known high school football coaches in Iowa.
Thomas made national headlines last year when he insisted that the high school's football field, named in his honor, be rebuilt as a way to help restore community pride in Parkersburg after it was hit by a powerful tornado that killed six people and destroyed the high school in May 2008.
Kampman and Wiegmann went back to Iowa to help in the clean-up and rebuilding efforts.
"I always give a lot of credit to Ed," Meester told NFL.com last year when asked how four players from a high school of 238 students could make it to the NFL. "He does a tremendous job every year with his players. Even if you don't go on to play professional sports, you take so much from his program that you can use in your life."
Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, who once was a high school teacher and coach in Des Moines, said he was stunned by news of 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."
A vigil for Thomas was planned for Wednesday night.
Besides Aaron Thomas, Ed Thomas also is survived by his wife, Jan, and another adult son, Todd.
NFL.com's Steve Wyche, reporting from Green Bay, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.