Shooting victim remembered as ‘beautiful soul,’ a soccer star who dreamed of going pro

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Thamba Mbungu, “a beautiful soul,” was the victim of a shooting Sunday at Derryfield Park. Photo/Courtesy Sam Latona

MANCHESTER, NH – Manchester’s soccer community and others are grieving the loss of Thamba Mbungu, an extremely talented player described as an amazing person with a beautiful soul, found dead Sunday morning in Derryfield Park.

Mbungu, 20, of Manchester, died from a bullet wound to the back, according to an autopsy performed Monday morning by Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Mitchell Weinberg. His death was ruled a homicide.

Max Latona, a philosophy professor and executive director of the Center for Ethics in Society at Saint Anselm College, and his son Sam both knew Mbungu for about a decade. Mbungu and his family came to Manchester around 2008 from the Congo, Latona said.

Thamba and Sam met when they both were about 10-years-old through Inti Academy, a non-profit that uses the game of soccer to bring Manchester’s refugee, immigrant, and inner-city kids together.

Max Latona was executive director of Inti and had coached Thamba.

“I only coached him for a year and he still called me Coach Max,” said Latona. Thamba visited Latona’s home just two weeks ago.

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Thamba Mbungu and Sam Latona at Hampton Beach. Photo/Courtesy Sam Latona

Sam said Thamba was “a fantastic soccer player, an All-American for the state of NH his senior year. He had aspirations and dreams of playing professional soccer which he was absolutely capable of.”

In 2019, he was named High School Player of the Year for New Hampshire while a senior at Central High School. Thamba also played for the Revolution Youth Team, funded by the New England Revolution, a professional soccer club owned by Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots. The team competes in Major League Soccer in the Eastern Conference of the league.

“Thamba was a true competitor, a great person, humble and caring,” said New England Revolution Assistant Coach Marcelo Santos.

He also participated in the Bring It! (Bringing Refugees, Immigrants and Neighbors Gently Into Tomorrow) afterschool program at Hillside Middle School, designed to help connect kids to one another through soccer, dance, and academics. Mbungu was so talented that he often “played up” with the older kids for the competitive challenge, and in 2019 during an interview with the Ink Link was described by his Bring It! coach, Doug LeClerc, as “our best player.”

On Monday Manchester’s Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Goldhardt released the following statement:

“We are completely devastated by the loss of this young man, taken far too soon. We know Thamba’s passing will be felt deeply by our entire school community, particularly his alma mater, Central. We are making sure that resources and support are available for students and staff during this difficult time.”

Sam said kids looked up to Thamba, especially those at Central High School.

“They saw him as not only a talented soccer player, but as a role model for hard work, intense dedication, and a quiet leadership. The dedication and work he put into the game he loved never went unnoticed, and it will forever serve as a demonstration of what it takes to be great.”

Sam said he grew up with Thamba and “I feel as though we knew each other in whole. That’s my brother.”

Max Latona said Thamba, after high school, worked second shift at a local factory but was trying to connect with a professional soccer team overseas.

“He was extremely talented and had a bright future ahead of him,” Max Latona said.

The Latonas both said Thamba was an extraordinarily happy, kind and respectful person. “There’s not a single person who would speak ill of him,” Max Latona said.

Sam said his friend was also hilarious.

“He was so funny and had the greatest smile. He tried to make you laugh every time. He had a great sense of humor.”

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Thamba Mbungu had big dreams of playing professional soccer, and the talent to see them through. Photo/Courtesy Sam Latona

Sam and Thamba spent a great amount of time together, going on dozens of trips to different states playing soccer. “He came with me to Florida to see my grandparents,” he said.

While Thamba’s family was not affluent, Sam said his friend would share anything with anyone. He “absolutely would” give someone the shirt off his back.

“It’s impossible to capture the whole of him in one article, but I would say that Thamba had a wonderful laugh and a method of understanding people that made you feel safe around him,” Sam said. “His smile reminded you that everything was going to turn out okay. “

Sam said Thamba’s parents raised an extremely respectful and hardworking son, “whose spirit will continue to lift up those of the people who knew him. I love him and I miss him.”

Femi Fatukasi on Sunday established a fundraiser on GoFundMe to cover Mbungu’s funeral expenses. As of 3:30 p.m. Monday, $12,376 had been donated, exceeding the $10,000 goal.

“It’s with great sadness in my heart to hear the terrible news about this great soul we all deeply loved this man,” Fatukasi wrote. “He was a great soccer player and we’d all hope to see him go pro.”

Some contributors commented about Mbungu, one saying he was a “beautiful soul” and another describing him as an “amazing person.”

Mbungu’s body was found in Derryfield Park Sunday morning around 7:40 a.m. after police were called about an unresponsive person who was “not breathing at all.”

Police continue to investigate his death.

Monday afternoon, an officer with a police dog was seen going from house-to house on Bridge Street, across from Derryfield Park. The two seemed to be searching for something as the dog was sniffing bushes and the exteriors of the homes.

Anyone with information regarding the incident is asked to call detectives at the Manchester Police Department at 603-668-8711. Anonymous tips can be made via Manchester CrimeLine using a secure online form or by calling 603-624-4040.

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Central Varsity Soccer Team Dinner in 2018. Photo/Courtesy Sam Latona



About this Author

Pat Grossmith

Pat Grossmith is a freelance reporter.