Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Inside a room in Deaconess Hospital's intensive care unit on Tuesday, Thomas Walls's body was covered in a North High School blanket, surrounded by hockey trophies, pictures, friends and relatives.
Years of athletic and academic prowess ended abruptly before dawn Sunday when the 20-year-old Purdue engineering student was fatally stabbed in the neck.
His alleged attacker, Andrew Rogers, also 20, now faces murder charges in the stabbing.
On Tuesday, Walls' parents, Lee Ann Wambach and Dennis Walls, as well as his stepmother, stepfather and other supporters kept vigil at his bedside.
"He is young and strong," Wambach said as she explained that although Walls was pronounced dead late Monday, his family decided to keep him on life support until his organs can be donated.
Wambach could hardly tear herself from her son's bedside Tuesday.
"I know he's dead, but he is still warm, and I am trying to be here with him as much as I can" she said, her voice breaking as she touched his thick brown hair and watched his chest move up and down while machines pumped oxygen to his organs, keeping them alive for someone else.
Wambach was with Walls when he got his driver's license, and said she and her son discussed organ donation when he filled out his paperwork.
"So it wasn't just a box he checked off," she said of his desire to be a donor.
Earlier in the week, Walls' brother, William, 13, left a $2 bill and a hockey trophy beside his brother's bed.
His 23-year-old sister, Anna, is a second lieutenant serving in Iraq. She is scheduled to arrive home today.
Wambach said she didn't know the people Walls was hanging out with in the hours leading up to his stabbing early Sunday. She said several of them have come to see him in the hospital, but she knows few details about what happened.
Trying to put into words how senseless the loss is, Wambach flipped through the pages of a scrapbook where she has chronicled the milestones and achievements of her middle child for 20 years.
The 2005 North High School graduate was co-captain of his varsity soccer team, a member of the marching band and National Honor Society, played for the youth hockey team Evansville Thunder, was a member of Bethlehem United Church of Christ and the winner of numerous athletic and academic honors.
The handsome youth voted "Most Photogenic" in his senior class beamed from the pages of the scrapbook where his mother also recorded more lighthearted moments, such as Walls playing the guitar with friends, holding up trophies with his hockey teammates, styling in a tux for prom, driving his red pickup truck, kissing a fish and bobbing for apples.
Then she turned to a blank page.
"I never got to finish this," she said. "It breaks my heart."
As a kid, Wambach said Walls was "squirrely" and energetic.
"He was a little accident prone," she said, laughing as she looked at a picture where Walls' chin is bandaged at a hockey game. "He had to get stitches on that same spot three times. We joked we might as well put a zipper there."
But as a teenager, Wambach said Walls began to see himself as a quiet leader who could influence others.
David Klass has known Walls since the two were 4-year-olds. They attended the same church, then played soccer together.
"He was serious when he absolutely had to be, but he always knew how to lighten the mood or have fun," Klass said. "During practice breaks, he was always one of the first to crack a joke. He was able to keep everything kind of mellow."
Klass said that balance was what led Walls to be elected captain of the soccer team during his senior year at North.
"He always knew how to brighten a room," Klass said. "That may sound cliche, but that was Thomas for you. He never tried to offend anyone. He was always a good guy. That's how he needs to be remembered."