Student Activist’s Grisly Killing Still Unsolved

Student Activist’s Grisly Killing Still Unsolved

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We will never be the same because of you,
We will never be the same without you,
You will be remembered.
–From a poem by film director Lee Mun Wah in remembrance of Marc Anthony Thompson


CHICO, Calif. -- Marc Thompson had a big smile – broad and gap-toothed — and an even bigger personality. He made a mark on people, “like a blazing star across the midnight sky,” in the words of activist Lee Mun Wah, one of Thompson’s mentors. And he had dedicated his young life to fighting against a litany of social injustices.

Then, three years ago this month, he was brutally killed, his body found in his burned-out car in a remote area about 28 miles northeast of Oroville. Thompson’s parents, still devastated and mystified over the murder, continue to question whether the Butte County Sheriff’s Department did enough to apprehend his killer or killers.

“I’m still grieving,” said Thompson’s mother, LaWanda Thompson-Taylor. “I’m still hurting and grieving.”

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea disclosed in a recent interview with ChicoSol that sheriff’s detectives, in hopes of generating new leads in the case, are employing more advanced technology than was available three years ago “to mine the data” from Marc Thompson’s cell phone records. Honea noted that his department never closes murder cases.

“Let me state emphatically that I can appreciate the frustration and the desire of Marc Thompson’s family to have closure,” Honea said. “I can assure you that I want this horrific crime solved.”

At his death, Thompson was a student leader at Chico State and just 25 years old – the same age as his cousin, Desmond Phillips, who was having a mental episode in his home when killed in a hail of Chico police bullets on March 17. In fact, during the heart-wrenching minutes after Phillips was gunned down, his shocked, sobbing father, David Phillips, was recorded pleading: “No! No! We just buried my nephew! Oh God, no!”

Lawrence Thompson Sr. of Chico, Marc’s father, was mostly solemn and sometimes struggled for words in a recent interview at his Chico residence, but he instantly brightened when asked to describe his son.

“He was destined for greatness, that was for sure,” Lawrence Thompson said. “I told him when he was 12 that he’s my retirement plan. So I needed to help him get to his goals.”

Lawrence Thompson also called his son a “natural-born public speaker” — a leader who people gravitated toward. As a youth he played football for the Oroville Rhinos. An avid reader, Marc’s “biggest thing was trying to beat me at ‘Jeopardy,’” his father recalled with a smile.

Thompson-Taylor, who lives in Florida, called her son “a kind soul. He was a big bear — someone you could talk to. That’s why (his murder) is so difficult to understand.”

At Chico State, Thompson majored in sociology and psychology with minors in women’s studies and in multicultural and gender studies. He also served as the Associated Students’ commissioner of multicultural affairs. A bachelor’s degree was awarded to him posthumously by the university.

“He was an advocate for social justice,” said Thompson-Taylor. “That was his fight … at Chico State. It was not known whether that was the reason he died.”

Marc Thompson also had been a student activist at Butte College. The back cover of the 2016 edition of the Butte College Bloom, a student literary magazine, was given over to pictures and words in memory of Thompson, calling him “an amazing example of what it means to be inclusive, kind and genuine. He was an ally and friend to many.”

One photo is especially striking. In it, Thompson smiles, chin lifted proudly, a do-rag, red and black, atop his head. Marc’s wearing a bright yellow “Diversity Committee” T-shirt that’s snug against his husky frame and pinned with five message-filled buttons, including a variation on Gandhi’s “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

The yellow shirt had asked its wearer to complete two thoughts in black marker: “I am ….” and “But I am not …”

Mark wrote on his shirt:

–“I am a Black U.S. citizen of African slave descent.”
–“But I am not inferior.”


The do-rag became something of Marc’s signature attire, as he reportedly took issue with dress standards he did not consider inclusive. Online images of Thompson frequently show him sporting a do-rag — whether it’s in a group photo with other student officers at Chico State, in a meeting with California State University Chancellor Tim White, or in director Lee’s film, “If These Halls Could Talk.”

Lawrence Thompson said he taught all of his children to play cards, and a former college instructor of Marc’s recalls sharing a poker table in this remembrance. On Sept. 3, 2014, the evening of his gruesome death, Marc had headed off to Gold Country Casino for some Texas Hold ‘Em. He was not at the casino for long. His body was found in his car, which had been set afire with an accelerant, in a secluded area his father described as “picturesque.”

Julie Withers, a former Butte College instructor who became close to Marc, writing shortly after the killing, described the region where he was found as “steeped in mining and logging history, … rural and quiet, known for marijuana grows and conservative politics. It is a lonely wooded place.”

Lawrence Thompson said it was his understanding that some of Marc’s phone data, as well as some security video from the casino, was lost because sheriff’s investigators did not move quickly enough to secure them before deletion.

“The obvious things weren’t happening quick enough, obviously,” Lawrence Thompson said.

Honea defended his department’s investigation, saying detectives jumped on the case immediately and moved as rapidly as possible to get the phone data. However, the sheriff acknowledged that security footage from the casino parking lot was lost, although video of Thompson inside the casino on the day of his death was captured.

Honea also said pursuing the Thompson investigation took detectives to Kern County, Vacaville, Riverside County, Sacramento, and three times to Santa Cruz.

“We believe there are people who are close to Marc who have insights into his disappearance” and who have withheld that information from investigators, Honea said. “That hasn’t deterred us from pursuing this investigation. … There is some evidence that’s been collected that could pay dividends in the future.”

Whatever Marc Thompson’s goals might have been in life, they would have been simple and “focused on doing good for society and others,” wrote Withers, the ex-Butte instructor who was his friend and mentor.

Due to his forcefulness and passion, Marc became involved through Withers in “If These Halls Could Talk,” a film made in the Bay Area that included Marc and other college students. In Lee’s director’s cut of the film, Marc at one point responds to a young white man who says he shouldn’t have to feel guilt for the past sins that whites have visited upon blacks: “You have to. You have to inherit the guilt; you have to inherit the shame.”

His path seemed clear to Marc Thompson when he recorded a short video about himself at Chico State not long before his murder. With an anti-hate message scrawled on his cheek and clad in Wildcat red – red shirt, red do-rag, red ball cap turned backward – Thompson closed by saying: “I hope to one day become a professor where I can instill my passion into the next generation and hopefully become the change I wish to see in the world.”

Dave Waddell is news director at ChicoSol.