Linda Shaw Thomas, 47, called 911 at about 4 a.m. Monday to report she was being attacked in her home, Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin said. A dispatcher stayed on the phone with her and heard the attack as deputies responded to the home, at 302 Dundee Circle east of Raeford.
Thomas was stabbed 21 times and died at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst, Peterkin said.
"When someone is stabbed 21 times, that's rage. It doesn't take 21 times to stab someone to kill them," he said. "When someone keeps going and keeps going, that's a lot of build-up."
Thomas had a restraining order against her former husband, Allen Thomas, 51, to keep him from entering her home, Peterkin said.
Deputies were searching for Allen Thomas in the slaying, and Peterkin said they believe he was still in the Raeford area Monday.
Two foster children, girls ages 15 and 17, were in the home at the time of the attack and were awakened by Linda Thomas' screams, Peterkin said. They were uninjured.
The foster children were staying with Linda Thomas' relatives on Monday, authorities said.
Linda and Allen Thomas had been married for at least 20 years and had two children, who are both in college, relatives said.
Linda Thomas masked her troubled marriage with a bubbly personality, relatives said.
"(She was) a fun-loving person," said her sister, Mary Blue. "If she was in the building and she was feeling fine, you knew she was there."
Linda Thomas had worked in Hoke County schools for 27 years – first as a receptionist, then as a teacher and most recently as a librarian at Hoke County High School – and had planned to retire in a couple of years.
A banner hung Monday in a Hoke County High hallway in Thomas' honor. "You've been my friend, my teacher and a mother to me," one student wrote. "You always made me laugh," another wrote.
"She was a person (who was) always helping somebody," Blue said. "That was her life – her children, my children, everybody's children."
Peterkin said he had known Linda Thomas for years and described her as "very sweet."
Allen Thomas has a history of drug use, the sheriff said, adding that he didn't know whether drugs played a role in Monday's incident.