Slain Benton City teacher to be memorialized

A Benton City teacher slain in 2004 while he was helping two teens call for a ride home will be listed on a national memorial for people who died while serving in the name of education.

Bob Mars, a Kiona-Benton City teacher and coach, is one of just two teachers from Washington to be memorialized on the monument being built in Emporia, Kan., and scheduled to open in June.

Leona Caires, a Frontier Middle School teacher killed in a 1996 school shooting, also will be honored on the Memorial to Fallen Educators.

"This is the kind of bravery that needs to be honored," Carol Strickland, executive director of the National Teachers Hall of Fame, told the Herald.

Both teachers were lauded for their dedication to education and their students at the time of their deaths and they haven't been forgotten, school leaders said.

"He was a great man," said Ki-Be board Chairman Tim Cook of Bob Mars. "He'd go out of his way for anybody."

The impetus behind the memorial was the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, which left six educators and 20 children dead in December 2012 , Strickland said.

The decision was made to dedicate the memorial to anyone who died tragically while serving in the name of education, she said.

The names of the 112 selected for the monument come from almost every state and every era. The oldest entry is Enoch Brown, a Pennsylvania school master killed in a Native American attack in 1764.

William David Sanders, the teacher killed in the Columbine High School shooting in 1996, and Christa McAuliffe, the New Hampshire teacher on board the space shuttle Challenger when it exploded in 1986, will be listed.

There also are entries more recent than Sandy Hook, such as Charles Poland, the Alabama bus driver who was killed by a gunman in January 2013 when he tried to protect kids on his bus.

"Our whole board thought we needed to do something," Strickland said. "We just wanted to honor them."

The hall of fame worked with state teacher associations to determine candidates for the memorial and that led to Mars and Caires being considered, she said.

In September 2004, Jordan E. Castillo, then 14, stabbed Mars when he let Castillo and his friend Robert A. Suarez into his classroom to use a phone to call for a ride home. Castillo and Suarez originally intended to rob Mars of his truck but killed him instead.

Castillo was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted theft in January 2006. He was sentenced to almost 30 years in prison. He is serving his time at Airway Heights Corrections Center.

Suarez, 17 at the time of the stabbing, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 27 years in prison. He is at Clallam Bay Corrections Center.

Mars began teaching in Ki-Be in the mid-1980s and was well known and liked, said Chuck Feth, Ki-Be Middle School principal. Feth was Ki-Be High School's athletic director when Mars was killed and had helped bring Mars back to coach football.

"One of his strengths was motivating kids and getting them to stay involved," Feth said. "(Mars' death) really was a big hit to our community."

Cook wrestled under Mars when he attended Ki-Be High School. Mars, 44, who was married with three sons, inspired a lot of admiration and loyalty from his wrestlers because he was willing to do so much to help them succeed, he said.

"I did some stupid stuff back in school but he'd be right there supporting you," Cook said.

In February 1996, Barry Loukaitis, then 14 and armed with a rifle, walked into Caires' classroom in Moses Lake and shot three students, killing two of them. Loukaitis killed Caires when she tried to stop him.

Loukaitis was convicted of numerous counts of murder and kidnapping and is serving a life sentence at Clallam Bay.

The Kansas memorial will feature a limestone retaining wall, walkway, black granite benches, two book monuments, a donor's wall and a patio paved with bricks listing the names of donors who contribute $250 or more.

While the memorial is under construction, Strickland said they are still seeking donations to pay for it. The hall of fame has received $200,000 toward its $300,000 goal.

For information on how to donate and updates on the project, go to www.nthfmemorial.org.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver