Thomas helped pull his town together after a tornado struck a year ago, killing six.
Coach Thomas pushed to get the high school stadium rebuilt in time for football season - something he felt would hasten some much needed healing after the devastation - which he described to The Early Show's Julie Chen: "I've never experienced anything like this in my life. It's probably the most difficult days that I've had, and our community is mourning the loss of many of our friends here."
With a career record of 292 wins and 84 defeats, football was his life. He was honored in 2005 as NFL High School Coach of the Year, having inspired several of his players on their way to pro ball.
Members of the community came out Wednesday night to say goodbye to their coach.
"He was there to make you a better man. He was there to make you a better person in life. I can't believe he's not here anymore," one student said.
It's hard to understand what motivated the troubled suspect, 24-year-old Mark Becker, to allegedly shoot Thomas, his former coach, in front of 20 students in the school's weight room Wednesday morning.
The suspect was sent to the psychiatric ward of a local hospital but was released to his parents on Tuesday without the knowledge of law enforcement.
Thomas' son Aaron, Parkersburg Police Chief Chris Luhring and NFL player Brad Meester appeared on The Early Show Thursday.
Watch the full interview below:
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