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Former Player Arrested in Shooting of Coach

A 24-year-old former Aplington-Parkersburg (Iowa) High School student and football player has been arrested in the shooting death of Ed Thomas, the district's long-time football coach. Mark Becker, who has been charged with first-degree murder, was arrested at a rural Parkersburg residence shortly after the shooting, an official from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said during a news conference this afternoon.

Becker entered the weight room near the high school in Parkersburg at about 7:47 a.m. Wednesday and allegedly fired multiple shots from a handgun at Thomas, officials said.

Superintendent Jon Thompson said about 30 players were in the weight room working out when the incident occurred. None of the players were injured. All went to the elementary school to receive grief counseling.

Becker involved in chase over weekend

Court records show that Parkersburg, Iowa, police engaged in a high speed chase of Becker on Saturday night after Cedar Falls police alerted them about an incident at a residence in which Becker allegedly broke out windows with a baseball bat and drove into the garage door causing more than $1,000 damage.

Parkersburg Police Chief Chris Luhring pursued Becker's vehicle and observed him going through stop sign at busy intersection at high speed, according to court records.

A chase ensued that went in excess of 100 miles per hour. The chase ended six miles north of Parkersburg when Becker struck a deer with the car while traveling in excess of 90 miles.

Becker on Sunday was charged with eluding, speeding, reckless driving and failure to obey a stop sign.

Online court records also show that Becker has 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.

He received 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.

Reaction to Thomas' death

Thomas, who was 58, died shortly after arriving by helicopter at Covenant Medical Center in Waterloo, Iowa, a hospital spokeswoman said.

"I've sobbed. I've cried. I've hugged my son. It's a senseless deal," Thompson said.

Thomas had been the school's coach for nearly three decades. He had 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 football team's weight room while the high school is being rebuilt after last year's F5 tornado.

Outrage over the shooting reached halfway across the country.

"Why would anyone want to do something like this?" asked 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."

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 knew Thomas well, not only as a coach but also as a community leader in the wake of the 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."

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