The mother of a man convicted of killing a popular northeast Iowa coach and teacher 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 of first-degree murder in 2010, Joan Becker has spoken out about the dangers of dealing with an undiagnosed mental illness.

Becker told KCRG-TV that her son backs her efforts to speak out — with hopes that his story may help someone else. “He really supports what I’m doing. He said if we can help by sharing our story, if that helps one person, then it’s worth it,” Becker said. In a presentation before a crowd in Cedar Rapids this week, Joan Becker started with snapshots of an average young Iowa boy. But, around the age of 16, Mark Becker began to change into a troubled young man who heard voices and went through psychotic episodes that included threats of violence toward his family.

Joan Becker encourages families to 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 noted no one would be embarrassed if the diagnosis was cancer. “That is wrong, we should be able to talk about this and get support from our community, from our church family, and everybody out there,” Becker said.

When someone in the audience asked how much has changed since the shooting, Becker said 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. Following his conviction, Mark Becker was formally diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. His mother said that the death of Thomas might have been avoided if her son could have gotten the help he needed in time.

Joan Becker said Mark 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 finished a book this year about her son’s struggles with undiagnosed mental illness and the family’s attempts to get help at the time. Her agent still is seeking a publisher. Becker has hopes her message will eventually find a wider audience.

By Dave Franzman, KCRG-TV

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