Murder in Parkersburg, Iowa.

Friday, June 26th, 2009

I am from Parkersburg, Iowa.

I wasn’t born there, I don’t live there now, but it is, without a doubt, where I am from.

It is – and will always be – integral to who I am.

On Wednesday morning, that part of who I am was once again hit by tragedy.  But this tragedy was far, far worse than the devastating tornado that wiped out half the town last year.

Last year, Mother Nature ripped away homes and trees and businesses.  Safety and security were torn from the lives of the people who lived there.

But this – this was so much worse.  Wednesday, the very heart of Parkersburg was ripped away in one horrible, senseless act of violence.

Husband, father and Coach Ed Thomas was murdered by former student and player, Mark Becker.

Thomas. That’s what we called him.  Unless you played football for him at some point in the last 30 years – then you called him Coach.  Even if you were a grown man yourself now, the respect and admiration in that title remained.  But it wasn’t just the boys who played football for him that were touched.

It was all of us.

Parkersburg is one of those places you watch movies about.  The community begins and ends at the football field – a field renamed “Ed Thomas Field” just a few short years ago.  So it makes sense that the football coach would be a prominent figure in the town.  But Thomas was much more than that.  As athletic director, coach and teacher, he was committed to helping to raise the kids of Parkersburg.

All of us.

It didn’t matter if you never wore a uniform or caught a pass.  We were his job.

I remember how worried he was about me when I had my first big heartbreak.  My ex-boyfriend was a star player on his football team, and the love he had for him was evident.  But so, too, was the concern he had for the 17 year old cheerleader who found herself feeling lost.

“Hey, Britt,” he’d catch my eye in the hall, “how you doin’?”

And he’d stop and search for the answer in me.  He wasn’t the type of man to bring a girl into his classroom for a heart to heart, but he told you with a nod and a cautious smile, a pause in the hallway and a penetrating look, that he saw you.  And that somehow things would get better.

A year later when I decided to set my sights on a boy in my class with a history of partying and irresponsibility, he made his concern clear again.  He warned me.  He cautioned me.  He reminded me that I was good enough.  Of course that doesn’t say much for my husband, I suppose – the irresponsible teenage boy that Thomas tried to steer me clear of.

But that’s what he did.  Ed Thomas kept his standards high and insisted that you rose to them.  And if you didn’t, he stood steady in his convictions and patiently waited for you to realize yours.

He was a father to my brothers when no one else was.

I got the news Wednesday from my mother.  And one of our best friends.  And my aunt.  And my dad.  And my brothers.  And a former co-worker.  And an old classmate I haven’t talked to in years.  The facts were inconceivable to those of us who knew – who know – what Ed Thomas is to Parkersburg.

I got on Facebook and immediately received chat messages from people I hadn’t spoken to in over a decade.  It was as if we were all searching for our bearings, reaching out to find something we knew now that our anchor was gone.  Someone.  Something.  Anything that could tie us back to that place that we come from.

And then there is Mark.

The suspect.

I have known Mark since he was my son’s age.  He was my little brother, Jay’s, best friend until just a few short years ago, when the drugs and demons that hounded Mark finally became too much for Jay to compete with.

Becker.  That’s what my brothers and the rest of the guys called him.

But my mother and I called him Marky.  Because he was a Marky.  He was quiet and shy with a big, easy grin that spread across his face whenever you told him you were glad to see him.  He sat on my front porch two summers ago and played poker with me and talked about how cool it sounded that we were moving.

He thought my daughter was adorable.

And he killed a man on Wednesday.

Brutally.  Viciously.  He walked into a room full of high school students and shot Ed Thomas with a gun.  Over and over again.

I don’t understand.

I don’t understand the horrible betrayal that must have flashed through Thomas’s mind upon seeing Mark point a gun at him.  I don’t understand what must be horribly broken in Mark’s head that he could be capable of taking a life so violently.

I don’t understand how that town will survive this.

Or why they should have to.

7 Daily Happiness Affirmations

Start your day with 30 seconds of positive intention, free when you join the In Pursuit of Happiness Newsletter.

  1. Connie says:

    I am so sorry. I kept thinking all day long “I know that town. Why do I know that town?”
    Now I know. Hang in there.

  2. Sheila says:

    When I heard of this story, I thought of you because I knew from the tornado that it was your home town. But, even though I did know that, I didn’t make the connection that you would personally know both people involved. I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine it at all.

  3. Fantastagirl says:

    As someone who grew up “hating that A-P Football Team” – but in a completely good way – they beat us every year… I knew “Coach” – not in person, but as someone who everyone, including our coaches respected.

    What he could get his team to do – amazing. How he helped rebuild his town, and worked so hard to be ready for that first game last fall… unbelievable.

    I wasn’t in my office when it happened, I was in the “central office” with people from all over the state, and one of my counterparts cell-phone rang, and with one look, we knew it was bad, the tears, the shock…and she said it – and we all said – No, not the coach… people from all corners of the state – knew of him, and how great he was…

    It’s hard, this isn’t supposed to happen here, it wasn’t supposed to happen there, not Parkersburg. Not in Iowa, not in Mayberry….

    Hugs to you, your family, and everyone involved.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Fantastagirl, “No”. That’s what we all said too. We heard he was breathing in the ambulance and thought – of course he’ll survive.

      He was invincible, you know?

  4. Sarah Bellum says:

    Coming from a small, close knit community this breaks my heart. I can’t imagine the overwhelming sadness the entire town must be feeling right now. I’m so, so sorry.

  5. Becky says:

    I’m so sorry.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Becky, ah, that’s so kind. I feel bad having someone say sorry to me – it surely didn’t happen to me.

      But, yeah, I’m sorry for everyone touched by this.

  6. Chrissi says:

    How horrible.

    My son, husband and I watched the report that ESPN showed.

    Such a tragic loss.

  7. Faiqa says:

    “Or why they should have to.” Amen. I’m sorry.

  8. I’m so sorry, Britt. It has to be hard to lose such an amazing mentor. Those amazing men are few and far between. Men or women really. People who actually *listen* for an answer when they ask how you’re doing. Who really want to know how you’re doing. It’s sad that it’s rare, even sadder he’s gone, but it is inspiring in that it shows you how much of a difference one person can make.

    Thank you for bein’ here. You, too, make a difference. I feel as though an asterisky hug is required here, though I know you don’t know me… so…. *hug*

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Marielle Shaw, I’ve heard reports from back home about the impromptu vigil held at the football field Wednesday night. They say it was overwhelming to see just how many people were touched by him.

  9. catherine says:

    You are right, they shouldn’t have to. It is a sad, sad tragedy. One that will take awhile to overcome. But here is the thing. They WILL recover. They will not be the same, but they will recover. And they will find a way to honor the man who meant so much to them. I know that town. I know the people. They shouldn’t have to but they will. They will do it for him.

  10. Lynda says:

    That’s awful. I feel sorry for the shooters family because of the stigma they will have over them, as well as the coach’s family. I never can understand such acts of cruelty.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Lynda, thankfully for Mark’s parents, people are being really supportive of their family. Even Thomas’s family has asked for people to remember what the Beckers are dealing with now.

  11. Kyra says:

    I’m sorry Britt.

  12. Sodapop says:

    What a horrible tragedy this is. I never understand when people do something senseless like this.
    :(

  13. Avitable says:

    Like we’ve discussed, while it’s hard for me to completely understand the concept of someone being the heart of community, that doesn’t make it any less shocking or heart-wrenching. And just the fact that they were all calling for people to pray for Mark’s family too is a testament to the quality of people.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Avitable, it really is. The more I read about what people are saying about Mark’s family, the more I am in awe.

      I wish someday you could see what I mean when I talk about the sense of community there.

  14. Dawn says:

    How awful. How terribly and horribly awful.

    Being born in (and growing up in) a big city, I don’t “get” that sense of community (although I envy it), but I know how it feels when a bigger tragedy — one that’s never supposed to touch your own life — hits close to home.

    I’m sorry for your loss.

    You said “I don’t understand.” Nobody does or ever will. Not even “Marky,” I imagine. Don’t even try to understand it; it’s unfathomable. Just concentrate on healing, babes.

    xo

  15. Wow. I am so very sorry Britt.

    The fact that you sat with Mark and he’s met your children not too long ago sent chills down my spine.

    I feel for Parkersburg. Especially those kids that were in the locker room and witnessed this senseless violence.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @sam {temptingmama}, and you know, it’s not scary for me at all to think how close Mark was to our family. It’s just incredibly sad.

      And yeah, I’m so scared for those kids. I can’t imagine how they will carry this inside of them.

  16. steen says:

    Oh Britt… I’m so sorry.

  17. Becca says:

    Britt, I am so sorry.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Becca, I wish I had something better to say than thank you. But I do appreciate the sentiment. Even though it wasn’t MY loss, personally – his wife and sons and grandchildren are obviously at the heart of it.

      But – still – thank you.

  18. Robin says:

    Tragic story, I’m sorry Britt.

  19. Oh Britt, my heart goes out to you and to your family, friends and hometown. I wish I had answers for you, but I don’t understand either. This was a lovely tribute to Coach though, and I could really get a sense of who he was. I’m so, so very sorry.
    xo

  20. Sharon says:

    I, as many, keep running this through my head. The senselessness, the tragedy, the confusion. And I keep coming back to the question of why Mark didn’t take his own life as so many others have done. Then I thought for a moment…or maybe God gave me the answer…Mark was not ready to die. I mean, Coach Ed knows the Lord and is ready for heaven. Mark, struggling with demons, might not. Could it be that God stepped in there and changed the plan just to give Mark more time? I believe God loves Mark that much. That he would say, “Ed knows me and loves me. Mark needs more time.”

    So now, more than ever, we need to pray for Mark. Honestly, I don’t remember him, but of course, Peter does. And I would never minimize the pain of those left behind. This is not justification. It is simply the possibility of looking at the big picture from God’s perspective. And, though I did not know Ed Thomas personally, it is very evident from his life he would have gladly stepped up to the plate and said “take me…Mark’s not ready yet”. How many of us could say that?

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Sharon, I have absolutely no doubt that Thomas would have made that choice if it was given to him.

      One of the first things Mom said was “if he had woken up, he would have told Mark he forgave him.”

  21. diva65 says:

    Oh Brit, I am so sorry for this loss. What a wonderful man he must have been. To his hear his son speak was so moving. I send my prayers to all of those who knew him.

  22. Old neighbor :)~ says:

    Britt,

    I have lost track of how many websites I have been on, reading different things, trying to get my head around this. What you have written here is possibly the best explanation of what this means to the community of A-P. I just wanted to drop you a line and say GREAT JOB!!

    p.s. tell your dorky husband hi for me! Miss you guys.

    Rob Gorter

  23. Marie says:

    Yesterday when I read your post my first thought was oh no, you really shouldn’t say who did the shooting on your blog. Presumed innocent until proven guilty. Allegedly is the word I wanted you to use if you were going to put his name up there on the internet.

    It’s such a wild world we live in now. Things go on that we could never have imagined years ago. You may never know why such a good person is now dead. It is very hard to understand.

    Hugs,
    Marie

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Marie, I actually thought of that when I wrote this.

      And legally, I 100% support innocent until proven guilty.

      But this isn’t a legal issue for me. It’s a personal reality that I – that we – have to come to terms with, somehow. I’m not alleging or accusing – I’m trying to find a way to deal with the facts that I know.

  24. B.E. Earl says:

    You know, when I first heard this story the other day I did immediately think of you. I wondered if you knew those involved and I was hoping you didn’t. So sorry.

    Great tribute to the coach on ESPN, by the way. I don’t know if you saw it. It may be the same story from ABC. They are owned by the same parent company.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @B.E. Earl, I still haven’t seen the ESPN coverage. It’s so hard to wrap my head around the fact that this is making national news.

  25. My heart goes out to the community of Parkersburg and to the families. It’s such an awful tragedy.

  26. Janelle says:

    I am so sorry Britt.

  27. Kim says:

    Britt,

    My heart hurts for you! You and allof Parkersburg are in my thoughts and prayers. You and Parkersburg have shown us how strong you are more times that any of you should ever have to!

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Kim, well – I haven’t had to be strong through shit. I had left Parkersburg a year before the tornado. And my families are safe – if not wounded emotionally.

      But, I do selfishly appreciate your thoughts and prayers.

  28. Sybil Law says:

    What an awful, senseless tragedy for everyone involved. But what a remarkable community you came from!

  29. oh britt, i just wanted to throw up when i heard about your coach’s shooting. sickening.

    i read an article where jay was quoted and was amazed at how many people seem to be praying for mark and his family. that is truly an incredible thing.

    my heart goes out to your entire community.

  30. Alisa (Hayes) says:

    Oh, Britt. You said it so well. It’s so hard to find words. There’s still so much shock and sadness (even for us ladies who weren’t on the football team). And that’s just it: you feel it, even if you were briefly in his life. It amazes me…the impact he made and continues to make. It astounds me that someone’s life can have that much influence, even from smalltown Parkersburg. And Mark. Oh, Mark. Our prayers and petitions are with him and his family.

    It’s amazing – these tragedies find us all together again.

    Missing you and everyone from our childhood. I just want to give everyone a big hug.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Alisa (Hayes), exactly.

      These tragedies make us want to run home and find our safe place again. I suppose that in itself is a testament to the place and people who raised us.

  31. Anne says:

    That is a really sad story, I can not imagine what must be going through your mind right now.

  32. Lesha says:

    Oh wow. How absolutely horrible. I’m from a small town too, where football is so big, and the coaches are community figures, I can’t even imagine.

    I am so sorry for you and your friends, and the entire community. It’s so very tragic.

  33. [...] the world goes on. Other people die, and you don’t hear about them in the same way. Did you hear about the coach, a community figurehead, who was killed by a former student? Did you hear about the plane crash in Arizona that killed four people? How about the 61 year old [...]

  34. Wow, that’s horrible. And this post, so full of fury and love, is beautiful.

  35. Britt, I just absolutely don’t have the words. I don’t. I’m so sorry. To be so intimately connected to both of them. I know you’re torn and heartbroken.

    I love you.

  36. Oh my God, this is awful, I am so sorry for your loss Britt. I really don’t know what to say. Best wishes.

  37. Hilly says:

    I’m so very sorry, sweetie. I feel bad for not having been around since I’ve been sick so if you need me at all, you know I am here.
    :)

    • Miss Britt says:

      @Hilly, oh, pshaw. Don’t apologize. I always feel bad when I read a post that says you’ve been sad and I’m like “DAMMIT! I WAS RIGHT HERE!”

  38. Joy says:

    I am de-lurking to say I am so very sorry. I know what it is like to have a senseless, violent tragedy strike your hometown. I wish you and your family – your whole extended family, the community – peace in the days and months ahead.

    And you are correct, no community *should* have to learn how to deal with this…

  39. Good Lord, Britt.

    I’m so sorry.

  40. Poppy says:

    Drugs do bad things to good people.

  41. Selma says:

    This is just inexplicable. My heart goes out to you all. Awful. XXX

  42. Darla says:

    I keep typing something and deleting it….

    I don’t know what to say, think or feel. I know this is in your HOME, but it’s hitting awful close to mine as well. It’s just not what we think of small town, Iowa. And yet that sounds stereotypical.

    And now I’m babbling….

  43. green3 says:

    Mark’s mom works for me and I was with her that morning. What a sickening day. I’ve never seen a heart more broken than hers. May God watch over everyone involved…

    • Miss Britt says:

      @green3, I wish she could know how much my family is thinking of hers right now. How much my mom and I have been thinking of her, specifically, since we first heard it. I wish that would help.

  44. CP says:

    I am so sorry for your loss, angelbaby. I know you have to be hurting. It’s hard losing a piece of your past…especially in such a senseless manner. Tragic.

    • Miss Britt says:

      @CP, thanks, love. It is hard. For everyone. I’m obviously one of the LEAST affected by it – and I can’t even imagine how much this must hurt for everyone else.

  45. martymankins says:

    When you posted this first on Twitter, I had to go read the news story. How utterly shocking and horrible. So sorry to hear this happened in your little corner of the world where you grew up.

« « Fragile | In lieu of flowers, I forgive. » »