(WGN-AM)- Police have charged a 24-year-old former player in the fatal shooting of a prominent Iowa high school football coach.
Police say Mark Becker shot Aplington-Parkersburg High School football coach Ed Thomas several times at about 8 a.m. Wednesday in the school's weight room. Authorities say students were in the room when Thomas was shot, but no one else was injured.
Thomas, the 2005 NFL high school football coach of the year, was airlifted to a hospital and died, his family said in a statement. He was 58.
Holly Fokkena, a spokeswoman for Butler County, said an adult male suspect has been taken into custody and was at the Butler County jail. She did not say if the gunman was a student at the school. But school district board secretary Sue Miller said she had heard he was not.
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.
Thomas compiled a career record of 292-84 in 37 seasons as a head coach, 34 of them at Aplington-Parkersburg, and was one of the most well-known high school football coaches in Iowa. He was honored as the NFL High School Coach of the Year in 2005, and four of his former players are in the NFL: Green Bay's Aaron Kampman, Jacksonville's Brad Meester, Detroit's Jared DeVries and Denver's Casey Wiegmann.
DeVries, a defensive end with the Lions, walked off the practice field in Allen Park, Mich. toward the end of its morning practice, apparently shaken.
Team officials said DeVries was not immediately available for comment.
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 in May 2008 that killed six people and destroyed the high school.
"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," said Superintendent Thompson.
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."
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 northwest 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."
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."
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 Doyal Robertson, was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story)
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