He had been reported missing Thursday morning and two men are being held in connection with his death.
Thompson, 29, of Jacksonville, formerly of Anniston, had strong ties to the area and hundreds of people hurting, said Joyce Palmore-Haynes, a close friend of the family.
“There’s a lot of family and because they are such good people, there are so, so, so many friends and co-workers,” said Palmore-Haynes. “When we first realized no one knew where Kevin was, it’s like all of a sudden there were 50 people standing in front of his apartment.”
Saturday night, that number at least doubled in a candlelight vigil at a park across from Wellborn Elementary.
Surrounding a small pavilion, onlookers sat in silence around framed photographs of Thompson placed on a table draped in black cloth. Then Thompson’s mother, Frances Curry, spoke to the crowd — not words of anger, but words of joy.
“I’m not here because he is gone,” Curry said. “I’m here to celebrate the years I had with him. Because of Kevin, I was a better person and because of Kevin, he made all who knew him better people.”
Curry told the attendees how excited her son was when he was hired at Wellborn and how he loved his job.
“He had so many stories about his kids, but never once did I hear one word that was negative about one child,” she said.
Doug O’Dell, principal of Wellborn Elementary, also spoke at the assembly about Thompson and his contributions to the school.
“We have a mission to make better people out of our students and after having Mr. Thompson as a teacher, I assure you, your children have a great foundation,” O’Dell said.
Shane Lambert, pastor at Eulaton Baptist Church, offered his prayers and words of solace at the vigil.
“I didn’t get the chance to know Kevin, but I feel like I know him — I’ve heard story after story about him for the last two days,” Lambert said.
After telling the crowd that they could still trust in God even though they may not understand why this tragedy took place, he had them surround Thompson’s family members and pray for their comfort in their time of grief.
The vigil Saturday, after the terrible news had spread, had been bookended Friday night by a similar event in Jacksonville on the square, when people prayed Thompson might still be alive.
In between time, people from Anniston, Jacksonville, Oxford, Wellborn and all over the county expressed their support in one way or another, Palmore-Haynes, the family friend, said.
As the news of his death reverberated through the community, even people that didn’t know Thompson were shocked and grieving.
“It makes me feel awful,” said Anniston resident Donna Ross. “That’s somebody who was doing good in our community.”
Teresa Forrester hadn’t heard the news Saturday morning and her eyes teared up when she found out.
“I went to school with him,” she said. “It’s really depressing. It’s terrible that our community has turned into something like that — a good person that you know cared about kids, cared about making this community better.”
Her husband, Josef, is angry.
“I know it’s bad when it happens to anybody, but it’s worse when somebody touches so many kids around here,” he said. “They need more support than anybody.”
Thompson disappeared from his Jackson Trace apartment Wednesday night, leaving other residents nervous. One resident, a Jacksonville State University student who declined to be identified, said he had moved to Jacksonville four years ago because he had thought it would be peaceful. A Mobile resident, he was used to seeing violent news in the paper, but in Jacksonville it was more shocking.
“I need to walk around with a few more weapons on me,” he said.
A woman in the complex who also declined to be identified said the news makes every police siren seem more urgent.
Kimberly Peevy, who was working at Java Jolt Saturday morning, said Thompson’s disappearance and death were unsettling in small-town Jacksonville.
“It’s really scary,” Peevy said. “Mom was just telling me before she left, ‘You’re not allowed to go to Walmart by yourself, or anywhere.’”
Danny Stephens, a Jacksonville resident who was heading into Scott’s Bike Shop on the square, was also shocked and angered by the news.
“You just don’t hear about this kind of thing in Jacksonville, Alabama,” Stephens said. “It takes away a safety factor.”
He’s hopeful, though, that it will inspire the community to pull together and become more connected. However, small towns are already very connected. People know one another either personally or through friends.
At the store My Two Girls, Allie Curvin and Bethany Bussey were aware of the news through Facebook. Both attended school with Thompson’s sister, Rena. They were frightened and at a loss as to what to do.
“The only thing I could do is pray for the family,” Bussey said.
Betty Tyler, a Cedar Springs resident who was attending a school class reunion at Germania Springs Park in Jacksonville on Saturday, feels sympathy for the family. Many years ago, she said, her nephew was missing for two weeks and found dead at Fort McClellan in an unexplained incident, his wallet and money missing. His driver’s license was mailed to the family in an unmarked envelope after his death.
“I feel for the family; I feel for his mother,” Tyler said. “I know how hard it can be on a family … . You just never know from day one to day two what’s going to happen.”
That fear, that uncertainty, can affect young people even more than adults, and Principal O’Dell said the school is preparing to deal with the students’ feelings on Monday morning. Some rumors were circulating and a few students were asking questions Friday, but he is expecting many more students to be aware of what happened on Monday. Counselors from several schools in the system will be on hand to talk to the students and faculty.
“Once school begins, we’ll sit down with our third grade students and kind of talk them through,” O’Dell said. “If they have questions or need time to talk at that time, we’ll go from there.”