Loved ones mourn slain McLoud teenager

The Oklahoman - - FRONT PAGE - BY JOSH DULANEY Staff Writer jdu­laney@ok­la­homan.com

MCLOUD — Un­der the bas­ket­ball hoop on the east end of the McLoud High School gym Fri­day hung a white jersey trimmed with red let­ter­ing and the No. 33. Un­der the jersey rested a bou­quet of red and white roses. Un­der the bou­quet stood the cas­ket of 16-year-old Kaylen Thomas.

Hun­dreds of mourn­ers, in­clud­ing fam­ily, friends, stu­dents and fac­ulty, at­tended the fu­neral of the teenage girl com­mit­ted to her Chris­tian faith, ded­i­cated to her fam­ily, faith­ful to her friends and highly com­pet­i­tive in her sport­ing en­deav­ors.

“Her le­gacy will carry on and she will not be for­got­ten,” Doug Arm­strong, Thomas’ bas­ket­ball and cross-coun­try coach, told a griev­ing com­mu­nity brought to­gether by the shock­ing death of one of their own.

On the af­ter­noon of Oct. 5, Thomas was shot in the head in a neigh­bor­hood across from McLoud High School’s foot­ball field. She died at OU Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

Au­thor­i­ties have said two teenagers, a boy and a girl, were in cus­tody in sep­a­rate ju­ve­nile de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties in con­nec­tion with Thomas' shoot­ing.

The Pot­tawatomie County Dis­trict At­tor­ney's of­fice did not re­turn phone calls Fri­day af­ter­noon in­quir­ing as to whether charges have been filed in the case, which is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by the dis­trict at­tor­ney's ju­ve­nile divi­sion.

A fam­ily friend of Thomas pre­vi­ously said the deadly shoot­ing oc­curred at the home of the girl who is in cus­tody.

McLoud Po­lice Chief Tom Pringle told the Shawnee News-Star that one per­son in the home full of teenagers at the time ad­mit­ted to hold­ing the gun.

Thomas was born Aug. 10, 2002, in

Mid­west City to Johnny and Cyn­thia Thomas. Be­fore her fu­neral, Thomas’ mother told The Ok­la­homan she is strug­gling to cope with the loss of her daugh­ter.

“Kaylen was the most pre­cious per­son there could be,” Cyn­thia Thomas said. “She was in hon­ors classes and played bas­ket­ball and (ran) cross­coun­try. She loved her coaches and her girls.”

Life in pic­tures

Last­ing more than an hour, with at­ten­dees seated on the bas­ket­ball court and up in the stands, Thomas’ fu­neral grew in­creas­ingly somber as mu­si­cal tributes played, and a video on a large screen showed the blonde-haired girl as a baby in her father’s arms, or else cra­dled by her mother.

The video re­vealed Thomas grow­ing into a teenager who loved to dance, sing and make her friends laugh. Loved ones saw play­ful self­ies Thomas took, fil­tered with an­i­mal ears and other silly im­ages on her head.

They also looked upon pho­tos of Thomas pinch­ing her nose as she was im­mersed in bap­tism.

Thomas wor­shiped at New Life Bap­tist Church. She was in­volved in youth group and at­tended camps at Falls Creek Bap­tist Camp and Con­fer­ence Cen­ter near Davis.

Thomas didn’t at­tend camp last sum­mer. She wanted to be home when her niece was born.

In ad­di­tion to run­ning cross-coun­try and play­ing bas­ket­ball, Thomas was McLoud High School's lead­ing fe­male archer.

When she wasn’t play­ing sports, Thomas at­tended high school foot­ball games and cheered on her fel­low Redskins. She planned on play­ing soc­cer this year.

Arm­strong said Thomas was a hard­work­ing ath­lete who al­ways put her team first and wanted to get ex­tra reps in at the gym. In a lighter mo­ment that would’ve made Thomas laugh, he told his ath­letes to do 10 ex­tra run­ning drills.

“And that comes from mama, not mean Coach Arm­strong,” he said.

A bright light

About 450 stu­dents at­tend McLoud High School.

Stu­dent Pas­tor Nathan Crow­son of New Life Bap­tist Church, him­self not that much older than some of the high school se­niors in at­ten­dance at the fu­neral, de­liv­ered a ser­mon of com­fort, fo­cus­ing on Thomas’ faith in God and her stead­fast hope in eter­nal life.

Crow­son had met Thomas only a day be­fore she died. It was Thomas who ran up to Crow­son, want­ing to meet her church’s new youth pas­tor.

“Even though she is no longer on this earth, she de­serves to be cel­e­brated,” Crow­son said.

He told her friends and fam­ily that as they see an empty desk at school, an empty locker and an empty bed, Thomas is “a bright light ... she lives on with each of you.”

When her fu­neral closed, Thomas’ cas­ket was rolled to the en­trance of the gym­na­sium. The cas­ket was opened to a pro­ces­sion of loved ones, and young stu­dents fac­ing the fleet­ing­ness of life. Many of the kids sobbed.

In re­pose un­der pho­tos of her life, Thomas’s body rested with her hands folded on her lap.

She wore a red McLoud High School sweater.

[PHOTO BY NATE BILLINGS, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

Kaylen Thomas’ bas­ket­ball jersey hangs above her cas­ket dur­ing her fu­neral ser­vice Fri­day in the McLoud High School gym­na­sium. Thomas, 16, was fa­tally shot on Oct. 5.

[PHOTO BY NATE BILLINGS, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

Hun­dreds at­tended the fu­neral ser­vice for Kaylen Thomas on Fri­day in the McLoud High School gym­na­sium.

[PHOTO BY NATE BILLINGS, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

Fam­ily, friends and class­mates of Kaylen Thomas re­lease bal­loons dur­ing the fu­neral ser­vice on Fri­day for Thomas at McLoud High School.

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