Alarm Alerts School Superintendent To Murder of Assistant Football Coach

BENTON CITY, Wash. (AP) -- An autopsy has confirmed that a teacher and assistant football coach was stabbed to death at a middle school and died before he could summon help.

In the town's first homicide since 1992, King Robert ``Bob'' Mars, 44, of Richland, bled to death ``in a matter of seconds,'' Benton County Coroner Floyd Johnson said Monday.

Mars was an assistant coach for the Kiona-Benton High School team and taught sixth grade at Kiona-Benton City Middle School, in the town 17 miles west of Pasco. He also coached wrestling at Kennewick High School.

Sheriff Larry Taylor said more than 25 people from his office were investigating, along with Kennewick police. The Washington State Patrol crime laboratory was providing assistance.

Sheriff's Detective Bob Brockman said the investigation included ``different incidents that have happened here in town in the last week'' but would not elaborate.

Mars was last seen at 11:30 p.m. Saturday at the home of the principal, where they had been watching videotapes of the football team's victory.

The sheriff said Mars went to the middle school to drop off the tape. His wife Kris reported him missing Sunday morning. The principal and a teacher found the body on the floor of the school about 8:30 a.m. Sunday.

All schools in the 1,650-student school district share a common campus.

Mars' Toyota pickup truck, parked behind the building, had a broken window and apparently had been ransacked.

``He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, obviously,'' School Superintendent Gary Henderson said.

Mars leaves three sons, Bobby, Kyler and Kody, one of whom is serving with the military in Iraq.

Henderson said Monday evening he was called to the campus by the school district's alarm company about 12:15 a.m. Sunday, because one of the alarms hadn't been turned on to detect intrusions.

He said that was not unusual because some staff members typically are in the building over the weekend, adding that he also saw nothing amiss, although he was there within about half an hour of the presumed time of Mars' death.

``It was quiet,'' Henderson said.

He said he went in the front door to set the alarm. Mars' body and vehicle were found at the back of the building.

Henderson said investigators had not given him a lot of information, but he had a ``gut feeling'' that the case could be wrapped up quickly. There had been rumors of some recent incidents in the neighborhood, but he said he didn't have details.

More than 700 people gathered at the football stadium Sunday as news of the death spread. Students and parents wept, held each other and sat silently as high school Principal Rick Linehan outlined plans for a series of assemblies and meetings for students and staff with about 20 counselors available.

Several weeping students recalled Mars as kindly, funny and dedicated to his students.

``He was a really good teacher, almost like a best friend,'' said freshman Tia Pingel, 15.

``He was always pushing you hard,'' said freshman football player Miguel Lopez, 15. ``But in a good way,'' added freshman Kandyce Alley, 14.

``He gave everyone a nickname,'' Lopez said. ``Most of the time, he was popping up with jokes out of nowhere.''