Published: Mar 31, 2011 4:25 AM EDT
Updated: Mar 31, 2011 1:25 AM EDT

NORTH PORT, Fla. - Hours after a teacher was killed at his North Port home, students and teachers at Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto grieved over the loss of a teacher and a friend. Ken Ellis had been with the school since it opened in 1998.

The flag at the school waves at half-staff, in memory of a man revered for shaping hundreds of young lives.

"He shows these kids what it means to be a nice, respectable, smart individual and it's just horrible that he's not here," Kelly Hillman said at a news conference held Wednesday."

61 year-old Ellis, better known as "Master Ellis," taught Tae Kwon Do and history for 13 years at the school. Students say he was tough, but respected. He expected excellence, and encouraged them to live a life "free of fear."

"He was pretty much a kind of father figure and the best teacher I've ever had," student Taylor Lesione said.

"I looked forward to going to school," student Jordan Tidd said. "He was such a great guy."

As students and faculty struggle to grasp what happened to their beloved teacher, detectives are working to piece together this puzzling murder, looking at all possible motives, including rumors that students could be involved. Principal Bill Jones fought back tears as he reflected on the legacy Ellis left behind. "He would tell you, students have to know that you love them," Jones said, "and he did."