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Thousands Gather at Vigil for Ed Thomas

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PARKERSBURG - Wednesday's vigil began with a prayer. It's the way people here say Coach Thomas would start anything on his football field.

This community wants to stick with the tradition of a man they respect greatly. Even though the bleachers beside the Ed Thomas Field were overflowing with people, the football stadium was silent.

"We're at a loss of words. Don't know what to say when you lose someone so wonderful," said AP middle school teacher Becky Koenen.

For More than 30 years, Ed Thomas has touched the lives of athletes on his football field and high school students in his classroom.

"He taught so many kids so many great lessons. It's astounding how many people's lives he's touched," said former player Evan Capper.

"As an educator, you get into this profession to have an impact on the lives of kids. And offer us educators, you can only dream of having the impact he had on them," said AP guidance counselor Gary Flanigan.

But Thomas' impact stretches beyond the AP school district. People here say he's a true leader in Parkersburg, helping rebuild a community devastated by a massive tornado last year.

"He was kind of the heart and soul of this place, but he would never admit to that or think that was the case," said Flanigan.

Wednesday's impromptu gathering of more than 2,000 shows just how much people in Aplington and Parkersburg thought of him and how much they need each other to get through the pain.

There will be a lot of grieving for the man who bears the name of this football field.

The high school guidance counselor says counselors will be on hand from 8 p.m. to 4 p.m. the rest of the week at the elementary school and they will be specifically meeting with the 20 students in the weight room at the time of the shooting.