Update: Suspect in Parkersburg coach shooting is former player, student
Mark Becker, 24, has been arrested and charged with first degree murder in the shooting death of Ed Thomas, the district's long-time football coach.
Becker was arrested at a rural Parkersburg residence shortly after the shooting, an official from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said. A handgun was used in the shooting. Becker is a former Aplington-Parkersburg player and student.
Thomas died this morning from injuries he sustained after being shot at around 7:45 a.m., Superintendent Jon Thompson said. Thomas was in the school's weight room with 30 players who were working out in preparation to the fall football season.
Thomas died shortly after arriving by helicopter at Covenant Medical Center in Waterloo, a hospital spokeswoman said.
"I've sobbed. I've cried. I've hugged my son. It's a senseless deal," Thompson said. His son Alec graduated this spring from Aplington-Parkersburg High School.
Thompson said grief counselors from around the area are at the elementary school providing counseling to the players, none of whom were injured.
Thomas was taken by helicopter to Covenant Medical Center in Waterloo, where he died, Andrea Barker, a hospital spokeswoman said.
More about the suspect
A review of online court records discloses that Mark Daryl Becker, 24, had been arrested Sunday by Parkersburg police on a felony charge of eluding. The court file relating to the charges against Becker wasn’t immediately available to reporters, according to the Butler County Clerk of Courts office.
That charge was one of four filed against Becker by police on Sunday including charges of speeding, reckless driving and failure to obey a stop sign.
Online court records also disclose that Becker pleaded guilty to charges of assault causing injury, possession of drug paraphernalia and criminal mischief in the fourth degree in Black Hawk County in January and February. His toughest sentence was a four-day jail term with the remaining 86 days suspended on the assault charge. He also was charged with underage possession of alcohol in August 2004 and pleaded guilty to that charge a month later.
More about Thomas
Thomas has been the school's coach for nearly three decades. He has nearly 300 career victories, and four of his former players have played in the NFL.
His home was destroyed by last summer's tornado that devastated Parkersburg.
He has helped lead the town back, including the Herculean effort to rebuild the ruined football field in time for the start of the 2008 season. The football field is named for him.
The shooting occurred in a red shed down the hill from the high school in Parkersburg. The shed is being used as the weight room for the football team while the high school is being rebuilt after last year's F5 tornado that ravaged part of the town.
The shed is going to be converted into a bus barn.
Marilyn Ingalls, who lives two houses away from the shed, was picking up debris in her yard after last night's storm. She said she saw an ambulance go by and said she thought a construction worker had been hurt. Moments later a police car rushed by, she said.
"When I heard someone had shot him, I thought maybe he was out shopping somewhere else, definitely not here. Then to hear it happened here in the weight room, doing what he loved to do, makes it that much worse," Ingalls said.
Outrage over the shooting reached halfway across the country this morning.
"Why would anyone want to do something like this?" said former Iowa defensive coordinator Bob Elliott, who works in the athletic department at San Diego State. "He's the best. He's the best of the best."
Elliott knew Thomas through recruiting of former Parkersburg stars Casey Wiegmann, Jared DeVries and Aaron Kampman. Thomas also coached NFL lineman Brad Meester.
"I talked to Ed after the tornado, and he was clearly devastated," Elliott said. "He was walking around the football field, cleaning up debris when I talked to him. He didn't have a cell phone, so the school gave him one because they knew everybody in the country would be trying to get in touch with him.
"That's how well-liked Ed was. That community has turned out a lot of NFL guys, but it was Ed Thomas who was the face of the community."
Reactions to the news...
Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, himself a former high school football coach, called the shooting "just awful" during a train stop in Earlham where he was promoting passenger railroad service.
"It's just awful," Culver said.
Culver said he knows Thomas well, not only as a coach but as a community leader in the wake of last year's devastating tornado.
"I've been a real fan of his, as an old coach myself," said Culver, who taught and coached at Hoover High School in Des Moines before becoming Iowa secretary of state in 1998.
"He epitomizes what it means to be a high school football coach. He's just a legend in terms of an incredibly powerful role model for generations of kids in the Parkersburg area. He's made our state proud with his commitment to the kids and high school football."
Culver, whose comments were made before he knew Thomas had died, continued:
"He was incredibly instrumental in bringing Parkersburg back, rebuilding the field and stadium and high school."
The school district's superintendent said some church leaders are discussing having a vigil tonight Church having vigil tonight on the football field.
"What better place to honor Ed than on the football field."