BOSTON — Three armed law-enforcement officials, driving separate unmarked cars, pulled into the empty parking lot outside the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mattapan shortly after 7 a.m. on Saturday. One conferred with a church official, then retreated to his vehicle and watched as a black hearse from Riley Funeral Home approached with flashing lights and procession flags waving. Five men opened the church’s doors and exited to help haul a white casket with brass handles up three steps. Inside laid the body of Odin Lloyd.
Lloyd, a 27-year-old landscaper who moonlighted as a linebacker for the Boston Bandits of the New England Football League, was dressed in all white. The lining of his coffin was embroidered with the words “Going Home” and an image of a dove flying skyward. His casket was carried, then placed on a roller and pushed in front of an altar emblazoned with “Alleluia.” His No. 53 Bandits jersey stood framed on an easel nearby.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” a friend said as she stood looking up the aisle.
At the front of the church, Lloyd’s sister, Shaquilla, openly sobbed.
“Why? Why? Why?” she said as her sister, Olivia, consoled her.
Eleven days after Lloyd’s bullet-riddled body was discovered in a North Attleborough industrial park, spent .45-caliber casings lying next to him in the lot of sand and gravel, more than 300 mourners crowded into the pews beneath a pitched roof. All knew how he died. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, and police charged Aaron Hernandez, the former Patriots tight end, with first-degree murder after reviewing tire marks and text messages, surveillance video and cellphone tower trackings.
The millionaire tight end picked up the blue-collar linebacker at his inner-city home an hour before his death, allegedly orchestrating the ruthless execution less than a mile from his expansive house on a leafy street lined with manicured lawns.
“The facts as I understand them, as presented to me, is that this gentleman, either by himself or with two other individuals that he requested come to the Commonwealth, basically, in a cold-blooded fashion, killed a person because that person disrespected him,” Judge Renee Dupuis said during a bail hearing Thursday.
Over two weeks, in sweltering heat, the warmest in Boston thus far this year, the Bandits, the Patriots, residents of the Greater Boston area and the nation, in general, trained their attention on the fallout from Lloyd’s death. News helicopters hovered overhead, Massachusetts State Police wore scuba gear to search a stream in a suburban neighborhood and Hernandez’s house became the biggest tourist destination in New England south of the Freedom Trail. Even as Hernandez sat in prison, police searched his house for possible clues connecting him to an unsolved double murder from July 2012.
What began with a homicide metastasized into a circus atmosphere, only to result in a sobering arrest and reminder of who was buried in Oak Lawn Cemetery, forever linking 20-something players on opposite ends of the celebrity spectrum.
“He was dumped somewhere like a piece of trash,” Lloyd’s aunt, Shirley Philip, said, her eyes growing glassy. “It’s like he wasn’t human. What could he have done?”
While Lloyd’s family was unsettled, sudden deaths have become common to the Bandits. The team is comprised mostly of inner-city kids indigenous to Roxbury and Dorchester, two rough-and-tumble sections of Boston. Their logo, a skull topped by a Cowboy hat, dots their yellow helmets. Their website includes a tab for
“Fallen Teammates,” commemorating comrades lost to electrical fires, murder and a car accident.
“Our brother has fallen,” linebacker Mike Massey said. “I will pick up his armor, strap it to my old, broken body and fight on for him and all of my brothers.”
They practiced a day after the killing and maintained that returning to the field offered calm. Last Saturday, coaches changed the practice location to avoid media cameras, and state police investigators interrupted the workout to alert players that they were interested in any information that might lead to an arrest.
“I hope they spend as much attention (in North Attleborough) as they do here because we weren’t at Club Rumor with him at the VIP table,” assistant coach Deondre Kennard said, referring to the club Hernandez and Lloyd visited two days before the murder.
Police maintained a presence at the funeral on Saturday, but they stood off to the side, eyeing all around them. They watched Lloyd’s team rally as players, wearing their tattered jerseys over shirts and ties, march into the church, walking in lockstep. They listened to poems, prayers, scripture passages and an impassioned defense of life’s value during the homily. Tears fell down faces as songs lifted those at a loss. The choir echoed a favorite hymn of Lloyd’s mother, Ursula Ward:
Family and friends of Lloyd gather and mourn at his funeral on Saturday.
It’s a highway to heaven
None can walk up there
But the pure of heart
It’s the highway to heaven
Fayston St., the block where Odin Lloyd lived until his death, is a faded stretch in the Dorchester section of Boston. Turn right onto the one-way strip, and the first visible sign affixed to the side of a brick building alerts all potential troublemakers: “NOTICE: This property is under 24-hour surveillance.” The second reminds those in need of help to Dial 911. Driveway gates are dotted with “Beware of Dog” and “No Trespassing” posters. A parking lot is marked “WARNING: Security Camera In Use.”
Denizens described Lloyd as their comedian from St. Croix, an old soul with a sly smile and two arrests to his name (both charges were dismissed in 2008 and 2010).
Fayston St. was the last place he was seen alive. Police say surveillance cameras captured images of Hernandez and two other men picking up Lloyd from the yellow, three-story house at No. 10. The group was in a silver Nissan Altima at 2:30 a.m. on June 17, the Monday following Father’s Day.
Hernandez, a first-time father with an 8-month-old daughter, Avielle, at his $ 1.3 million home, then drove Lloyd south to North Attleborough. Along the route, Lloyd alerted his sister via text message, asking her, “Did you see who I am with?” When she asked who, he replied, “NFL.” His last text read, “Just so you know.”
Bristol County assistant district attorney Bill McCauley read those missives publicly for the first time at Hernandez’s arraignment as he outlined the early morning hours when Lloyd was murdered. He described the eventual unloading of bullets into Lloyd as he got out of the car in a clearing at the industrial park. He was knocked to the ground with one shot. He then raised his arm in defense as he was on the ground. He was shot multiple times, twice in execution style, according to McCauley. As the prosecutor offered a full account of the murder scene, Lloyd’s mother, Ursula Ward, an immigrant from Antigua, was so overcome with emotion that she had to leave Court Room No. 1 with another family member. She sobbed behind dark sunglasses.
“I wouldn’t trade him for all the money in the world,” Ward said. “And if money could bring him back I would give this house up to bring my son back. Nothing can bring my son back.”
To memorialize Odin, Ward put out trophies celebrating his past athletic accomplishments on the porch the day after his death. She also placed a framed photograph of him wearing his navy blue football uniform. Neighbors streamed past her porch to pay their respects, and members of the non-profit group Project R.I.G.H.T., dressed in black shirts and carrying anti-violence signs, paraded through on Wednesday afternoon, led by a woman yelling into a microphone, “What do we want?”
“Peace!” the crowd said.
“When do we want it?”
Things quieted down after dark. Streetlights illuminated a community in mourning around 10:30 p.m. as television satellite trucks choked the road and broadcasters prepared for live 11 p.m. news-show hits in front of the house. A group of men from Caribbean countries sat on their front stoops, sweaty and shirtless, just as Lloyd liked to take in his summer nights.
“He was a person who took pride in his stinky feet because they were the result of putting in a hard day’s worth of work,” Lloyd’s sister, Olivia, said in his eulogy.
As a youth, Lloyd liked to fashion his game after Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher and used to play a game where neighborhood children outline Caribbean islands, from St. Thomas to Antigua to Barbados, in chalk on the asphalt and hop from one to another. He also enjoyed the cookouts, consuming oxtail, curry goat and salt fish, all served with rice and peas.
Former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is taken into custody and held without bail on charges of first-degree murder.
“He was the joy of the party,” Philip said. “He would eat it all.”
It was under those streetlights that Hernandez never realized he could be linked back to that seemingly forgotten street so easily. On the night of Lloyd’s death, Hernandez steered past warning signs as he departed Fayston St. The last building on the left side of the road has one poster on the outside of its ground floor. It reads:
Police Take Notice
Three Massachusetts State Police officers crawled on their hands and knees through a thicket of trees, breaking branches and guiding metal detectors along Homeward Lane, the street next to Hernandez’s, Monday morning. They wore black full-body rubber suits to keep dry while wading through a stream, and realized they were being watched in their search for evidence by a gaggle of photographers and cameramen.
“We’re coming out,” one officer said. “You can take our photos in a second.” All three soon emerged. One asked photographers how they wanted him to pose.
“You want me climbing on my hands and knees?” he said. “Would that work?”
The investigation into Lloyd’s death played out in public, in parts, but most progress was made in private. Law enforcement investigators sifted through spent .45-caliber bullet casings at the murder scene, examined tire impressions leaving the gravel road, tracked guns to Florida and twice searched Hernandez’s home. To break the case, officers used pry bars, hired a locksmith and listened to Lloyd’s family tell stories of how his relationship with Hernandez grew from Lloyd dating Shaneah Jenkins, the sister of Hernandez’s fiancee, Shayanna, to Hernandez and Lloyd hanging out on their own in recent months.
Prosecutors maintained that Hernandez’s motive related to his anger over Lloyd associating with men whom Hernandez had issues with at Club Rumor, a nightspot in Boston’s theater district, two nights before the murder.
According to McCauley, Hernandez, “orchestrated the execution.”
Hernandez’s attorney, Michael Fee, countered that the charges were, “at bottom, a circumstantial case.” He also called the links “weak,” and insisted that a separation of facts, including the current absence of the murder weapon, would set his client — who was denied bail — free. Fee will have his opportunity to contextualize Hernandez’s messages and swatches of video footage, but, in court, he lamented the crazed interest in Hernandez’s alleged involvement as “a rather hysterical atmosphere.”
No scene exhibited Fee’s assessment better than the second search warrant. It was executed last Saturday afternoon. North Attleboro police stopped traffic in front of 22 Ronald C. Meyer Drive at 1:40 p.m. Unmarked police vehicles then pulled in, and a team of 20 or so investigators, detectives, crime-scene analysts and State Police paraded through the designer doors to Hernandez’s manse. The K-9 unit came out to sniff the house’s interior and the backyard. Photographs of the house were taken, and brown paper evidence bags were hauled out.
All the while, an ice cream truck passed through, the mailman delivered a package as police opened the door for him and Fee appeared after two hours. The search lasted more than three and a half hours. Nearly 60 residents crowded around the television cameras.
“Mom, are they going to take him?” said one young neighborhood girl as she played pattycake with three other girls across the street from the intensifying murder investigation.
When police came to arrest Hernandez at 8:43 a.m. Wednesday, they traveled in a caravan of three cars, seven officials in all. Detectives were dressed in dark suits, and surprised a shirtless Hernandez when he opened the door. He was placed in handcuffs, then had a white V-neck T-shirt shirt put on him, covering his arms. He looked armless as he was led down the driveway into police cruiser No. 32. The arresting detective put him in the backseat, then motioned for the driver to depart for the police station. He then reopened the door and fastened Hernandez’s seat belt on one side. Another detective assisted from the right side.
Few locals were there to witness the long-awaited arrest, but the 12 television cameras trained on his front door captured every second. Interest in the case has yet to wane. Once the arraignment was completed, word spread that Hernandez would be prosecuted for first-degree murder. Locals outside the courthouse expressed surprise at the charge, while the courthouse’s janitor waited for a court officer to open the door.
Mourners of Lloyd and the Massachusetts community remain shocked and stunned over the death and chaos surrounding the investigation of Lloyd’s murder.
“Did he get bail?” the janitor asked.
“No,” the officer said.
The janitor opened a black plastic garbage bag and turned over another trash basket into his rolling bin. Hernandez and the media crush would be back in his halls July 24 for another hearing.
On the second floor of the Massachusetts Highway Operations Center at 50 Haul St. in South Boston, Mike Massey, a 37-year-old dispatcher, logs graveyard shifts from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m.
If there is a manhole cover missing or lanes need to be shut down on the surrounding roadways, he’s the contact to alert, but he noticed something unusual on June 18 when he went into work. It was the day after Lloyd’s murder, and Massey recognized analysts reviewing video from the District No. 6 section of the Greater Boston Area. Video of the highway was being examined frame by frame. Viewers were seeking evidence for the whereabouts of the silver Nissan Altima the night of Lloyd’s murder.
“It was like they were watching game film,” Massey said.
Massey, a linebacker for the Boston Bandits, knows the intersection of football and firearms well. Raised in Roxbury, he once witnessed the shooting of a 10-year-old, attended Boston English and matriculated to the University of New Hampshire to play football. He failed to leave the city behind him, though, selling drugs at fraternity parties and welcoming his cousins and other associates to ostensibly visit him for football games.
They were actually there to deal drugs.
When a fraternity didn’t pay up for a period of time after one transaction, Massey and his associates used their fists to demand money. Massey was fingered by the authorities, and was asked to leave the program.
“Hernandez should have known that you can’t be a gangster and a football player,” Massey said. “Too much time commitment necessary for both. I tried to bring the hood to New Hampshire, but that’s when I learned to pump my brakes.”
Hernandez, 23, never appeared to learn that lesson. Various photos link him back to gang activity in Bristol, Conn., possibly with the Bloods. He starred as a schoolboy tight end at Bristol Central High, collecting 376 receiving yards in one game. His father, Daniel, died after complications from hernia surgery, and friends and family noted Hernandez’s unraveling off the field while excelling at both football and basketball.
“For me, he was easy,” said UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma, who coached Hernandez on his son’s AAU team, “but then again, I didn’t go home with him.”
Concerns trailed Hernandez in college. He smoked marijuana while helping the University of Florida to a national title. Friends from home followed him to Florida, as well, and red flags were raised by NFL scouts leading up to the draft in 2010. Hernandez, a celebrated talent, fell to the fourth round because of those concerns. Enter Patriots coach Bill Belichick. He accepted the risk, only to release Hernandez on Wednesday after a three-year period during which Hernandez and fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski established records for their play.
In tandem, they totaled 362 receptions, 4,619 yards and 56 touchdowns.
“Words cannot express the disappointment we feel knowing that one of our players was arrested as a result of this investigation,” the team said in a statement.
Football seemed to offer Hernandez a gilded life. He played in a Super Bowl in 2012, but a month before he signed his five-year, $ 40 million contract extension, he was possibly involved in a double murder in Boston. Police are investigating that case now.
Hernandez is believed to have ‘orchestrated the murder’ of Odin Lloyd, according to Bristol County district attorney Bill McCauley.
After inking his deal, he professed being a new man.
“You get changed by the Bill Belichick way,” Hernandez said. “You get changed by the Patriot Way.”
Still, there was another gun incident in February. Alexander Bradley, a convicted drug dealer from Connecticut, filed a civil lawsuit on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Florida. Bradley alleged that the two got into an argument at Tootsie’s, a Miami strip club, and Hernandez pointed a gun at Bradley and the weapon discharged. Bradley lost his right eye and had multiple facial reconstruction operations, according to the suit.
“Plaxico Burress went to jail and he had the decency to shoot himself,” said attorney David Jaroslawicz, who is representing Bradley.
Last week, in light of the allegations, Hernandez was asked to leave Gillette Stadium when he drove his white Audi SUV there. He lost his Muscle Milk endorsement the next day. His No. 81 jersey is no longer for sale on the NFL’s website following his arrest. On Thursday, Puma ended its relationship with him. On Friday, the Patriots announced a free jersey exchange program will be held July 6-7 for any fan looking to swap a No. 81 jersey purchased at the Patriots ProShop at Gillette Stadium.
“We know that children love wearing their Patriots jerseys but may not understand why parents don’t want them wearing their Hernandez jerseys anymore,” spokeswoman Stacey James said.
It was a feeling of isolation that may have led Hernandez down a murderous slope in the first place. In McCauley’s outline, he noted that Hernandez told someone that he felt he couldn’t “trust” anyone any longer. Police reportedly believe Lloyd may have learned of Hernandez’s alleged involvement in the double murder in the South End. Either way, Hernandez beckoned two friends, Ernest Wallace and Carlos Ortiz, from Bristol to rush to North Attleborough.
“Hurry your ass up,” Hernandez said in one text, according to McCauley.
Massey, meanwhile, continues to track the rapid developments in the case each day. There’s a sense of familiarity for Massey, who insists he has given up street life. When he walks out of work, he turns over the mounting evidence against Hernandez in his head, using what he calls his “gangster instinct” to decipher the truth. He drives near the federal courthouse in Southie where the notorious criminal Whitey Bulger, who wrought terror on the city for decades, is on trial.
“Grimy, back-end deals have been going on here for who knows how long,” Massey said. “You can’t hide from anything in this city.”
The Boston Bandit with the best getaway speed is Darryl Hodge. At his fastest, he ran a 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds, dusting defensive backs as a wide receiver. Now 28, he’s slowed to a 4.5, but he knew he had to prepare for an endurance test Saturday.
At 7 a.m., he awoke after managing three hours of restless sleep to serve as a pallbearer in the funeral for Lloyd, a friend since junior high school. By 1 p.m., Hodge was sweating in the cemetery, trying to find the best grip with which to lower Lloyd’s coffin into the ground.
“I had to wipe my hands off,” Hodge said. “I tried one hand, then two. It was very heavy. It felt like I was walking the whole field when I was only going 20 yards.”
There was more to be done. The Bandits played the Bay State Buccaneers at 6 p.m. at Bridgewater State University. It was a preseason contest for a charity honoring another slain friend of Hodge’s — D.J. Henry.
“Playing for two people in one body is hard,” Hodge said. “It’s exhausting.”
Hodge maintained that he has no memories of Lloyd, only stories.
“Because he’s still here,” Hodge said.
He plans to keep a presence along with Massey as the murder investigation moves toward trial. Massey, who spoke with Hodge about dealing with death Friday night, mentioned wearing the team’s jerseys in the court room.
“Once a Bandit, always a Bandit,” Massey said.