116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - The mother of a man convicted of killing a popular high school football coach says families struggling with mental illness should not stay silent any longer.
Five years ago, Mark Becker shot and killed Aplington-Parkersburg head football coach Ed Thomas. Since Becker's trial and conviction for first-degree murder in 2010, Joan Becker has spoken out about the dangers of dealing with an undiagnosed mental illness. Monday night, she brought a message of understanding and hope to an event sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Linn County.
Following his conviction, Mark Becker was formally diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. His mother told a crowd out about 100 that the death of Thomas might have been avoided if her son could have gotten the help he needed in time. She said he gets excellent care in prison, and if she calls correctional officials saying her son seems to be slipping backward a bit, they'll adjust medication or provide more counseling. That reaction was missing when the family sought help before the shooting death of the coach.
Joan Becker told the crowd she has stayed busy in the years since the murder and trial. She finished a book this year about her son's struggles with undiagnosed mental illness and the family's desperate attempts to get help at the time.
Becker said her son is supportive of her efforts to speak out, with the idea his story may help someone else.
'He really supports what I'm doing. He said if we can help sharing our story, if that helps one person, then it's worth it,” Becker said.
In her presentation, Joan Becker started with snapshots of an average young Iowa boy. But she told those listening after age 16, Mark Becker began to change. Gone was the son who seemed as normal as anyone else. In his place, was a troubled young man who heard voices and went through psychotic episodes that included some threats of violence toward his family.
Her message to families struggling to cope was simple.
Heed the warning signs, be persistent in seeking professional help for a loved one who is struggling and don't be embarrassed because the issue is mental illness. Becker, at one point, said no one would be embarrassed if the diagnosis was cancer.
'That's wrong,” she said. 'We should be able to talk about this and get support, from our community, from our church family and everybody out there.”
When someone in the audience asked how much has changed since the shooting, Becker said the answer is things have gotten a bit better but getting timely care for mental illness, especially for a family seeking help for an adult child, remains a struggle.
As for her book, Becker said her agent still is seeking a publisher. She has hopes her message will eventually find a wider audience.