Loved ones mourn slain McLoud teenager
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.
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.
Hundreds attended the funeral service for Kaylen Thomas on Friday in the McLoud High School gymnasium.
Family, friends and classmates of Kaylen Thomas release balloons during the funeral service on Friday for Thomas at McLoud High School.