Becker and Thomas: family friends
Throughout the trial, both the Becker and Thomas families filled rows of seats with their supporters. At breaks, everyone filed out respectfully, as if they were leaving church: the Thomases would walk out first, then the Beckers would leave, and then everyone else emptied out by row starting from the front. Even though the two families had been extremely close for decades, they never spoke a word to each other in the courtroom.
Joan Becker had moved to Parkersburg as a teenager the same year Ed Thomas came to coach football. Dave Becker was a captain of the first Parkersburg High School football team that Ed Thomas ever coached. The families would remain connected throughout the next three decades. The Thomases and the Beckers worshipped at the same church, First Congregational Church of Parkersburg — where Ed served as an elder, and Dave as a deacon. Ed Thomas taught the Becker parents in Sunday School and at the high school. All three of the Beckers' sons would go on to play football for Coach Thomas. With such a strong foundation, the families remained close even after the unthinkable circumstances of June 24, 2009.
One of the reasons the goodwill endured, according to Joan Becker, is that she never hid her son's struggles with schizophrenia. On June 21, 2009, Joan spoke with Jan Thomas for an hour about Mark's latest hospitalization, voicing her frustration with the mental health system and her grave concern for her son. Within hours of the shooting, Jan called Joan on the phone. When Aaron Thomas spoke to the media that day, he told everyone to pray for the Becker family as well as his own. A few days after the shooting, the Beckers were invited to view Ed Thomas's body in private, along with the Thomases.
Both families still attend Sunday services; sometimes the Thomases sit next to the Beckers. "For them, going back to the history of their families, it's kind of a double whammy," said Brad Zinnecker, a pastor at First Congregational. "You lose someone who was a great friend, and you lose a kid."
Ed Thomas was truly gone. Now it was up to an Iowa jury to decide whether his killer, Mark Becker, would be sent to a psychiatric hospital or a penitentiary.