Thamba Mbungu was found shot dead Sunday morning in the same park where he regularly trained while a soccer standout at Central High School in Manchester.
Authorities have ruled the 20-year-old’s death a homicide. No arrests had been made as of Monday evening.
Central High soccer coach Chris LaBerge said as captain, Mbungu helped lead the team to a state final. The 2019 graduate had hoped to go pro.
“He is probably one of the greatest players I’ve ever had over the last 22 years,” LaBerge said Monday.
Mbungu was well-respected by LaBerge and his teammates.
“He was just a great gentleman on and off the field,” LaBerge said. “He was kind of a mentor to the other players. He was physically and technically one of the best players I’ve ever had. It is such an incredible loss. I have some players on the team who knew him quite well and they looked up to him.”
In 2018, Mbungu was the only New Hampshire and one of only 11 in New England named All-American. United Soccer Coaches named him high school player of the year for New Hampshire.
Mbungu was still working on his goal of going pro and recently spent time in Africa trying out with teams there. His family is from Congo.
LaBerge received a phone call early Sunday with the news of Mbungu’s death.
“He was the last person on earth that I thought I would be hearing that call about,” the coach said.
Another former player, Sean MacDonald, 28, died on Sept. 8 in a motorcycle crash on Interstate 93.
“These are young men who had the world ahead of them,” LaBerge said. “I am still shaken.”
Femi Fatukasi went to Central High with Mbungu and started a GoFundMe to raise money for funeral expenses. More than $13,000 had been raised by 6:30 p.m. Monday.
“We were all thinking he was going to go pro one day,” he said. “That was his dream. He wanted to play pro soccer.”
Mbungu was always laughing and cracking jokes.
“He was a really fun guy to be around. I really enjoyed the times I spent being with him. He would make me laugh. If I ever had a bad day me and him would just crack jokes,” Fatukasi said. “If you saw his smile it would make anybody’s day.”
In August 2019, Mbungu was among 70 selected for the New England Revolution Academy squads. Revolution Academy is the only fully-funded professional youth soccer development program in New England.
Marcelo Santos, a coach for Revolution Academy, wrote on Facebook he is “still in shock and disbelief” after finding out about Mbungu’s death.
“Thamba was a true competitor, a great person, humble and caring,” he wrote.
A college recruiting profile for Mbungu showed his passion for the game.
“I wish to play college soccer and strive in the classroom to succeed at the next level in life,” Mbungu wrote on ncsasports.org. “Soccer is my life, I love the sport. My engine never runs out when it comes to game time and most importantly when it’s time to train.”
Manchester Superintendent John Goldhardt said in a statement the school community is devastated.
“We know Thamba’s passing will be felt deeply by our entire school community, particularly his alma mater, Central,” he wrote. “We are making sure that resources and support are available for students and staff during this difficult time.”
LaBerge said he last saw Mbungu this summer.
“He was a hard, hard worker and he still had aspirations to play at a higher level,” LaBerge said.
Mbungu will be remembered for his time on the soccer field and for having an uplifting attitude, Fatukasi said.
“He was just genuinely a nice guy. You could just never hate on him,” Fatukasi said. “Thamba was just a fun spirit to be around.”
Mbungu’s death remains under investigation. Anyone with information is asked to contact Manchester police detectives at 603-668-8711.