PARKERSBURG, Iowa - Thousands of mourners gathered Monday to remember slain high school football coach Ed Thomas as a man of faith who believed in leading by example.
Clergy, family, friends and former players eulogized the 58-year-old teacher and coach, packing into a church, community center and parking lot for his funeral.
They said Thomas used his position as a respected coach and teacher in the Aplington-Parkersburg School District to shape the character of young people and everyone with whom he came into contact, instilling values of hard work and integrity.
Pastor Brad Zinnecker of First Congregational Church said the huge turnout was a testament to Thomas' faith.
"They recognized a man after God's own heart," Zinnecker said. "His personal life and public life were one and the same."
Although media were not allowed in the service, a speaker was set up outdoors at the Veterans Building where the service could be heard.
Aaron Thomas, one of the coach's sons, said his father was a great man of character, challenging the crowd in attendance to carry on the elder Thomas' legacy.
"You can be sad for the rest of the day, but come tomorrow, once you get up, it's time to get going," the younger Thomas said.
Aaron Thomas also challenged community members to continue with tornado recovery efforts, mentor young people and get involved in a church. To truly honor Ed Thomas, he said, people need to do what's right and take care of each other.
"That's what he'd want," Aaron Thomas said.
Thomas died June 24 when he was shot in the weight room at Aplington-Parkersburg High School. A Parkersburg man, Mark Becker, is in custody for killing Thomas, but no motive has been stated.
The outpouring of grief has been immense.
The funeral was scheduled to get under way at 10:30 a.m., but it ran a little behind schedule. The hearse pulled up to the church about 10:30 a.m.
The church had room for 1,100, with room for another 900 in the Veterans Building and seating for 200-300 outside the Vets Building.
All four Aplington-Parkersburg men playing in the NFL were pallbearers. Casey Wiegmann, Brad Meester, Jared DeVries and Aaron Kampman all play in the NFL and flew back to Iowa when they learned of Thomas' death. They joined four others as pallbearers.
Meanwhile, the city of Parkersburg was nearly a ghost town Monday morning. Most of the businesses in town shut down.
The service was so large that overflow gathered at the Veterans Building, where video was piped in.
The coach was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Parkersburg.
Josh Bahr, football coach at Tipton High School, attended the service. "We've never played Aplington-Parkersburg before. Obviously, Coach impacted the state quite a bit. We've had a few discussions with him this spring about building our program the way he built his."
Bahr brought players and coaching staff to the funeral to "just pay our respect to someone who's influenced the state greatly."
Head Dike-New Hartford football coach Don Betts also brought players to the funeral.
"Our kids wanted to come over and pay their respect to Coach Thomas," he said. "We've competed against them. They're our biggest rival. But the rivalry always ends on the field."
Betts said he has known Thomas for 20 years.
"He was a great football coach, but he was an even better person," Betts said.