June 28, 2013

Conn. hometown of Hernandez shocked at star's fall

By Pat Eaton-Robb / The Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. — The murder case against former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has led investigators to his hometown of Bristol, Conn., the working-class Hartford suburb where he began a meteoric rise that would carry him to the upper echelons of the NFL.

Former New England Patriots football player Aaron Hernandez enters a courtroom for a bail hearing in Fall River Superior Court on Thursday. Hernandez, charged with murdering Odin Lloyd, a 27-year-old semi-pro football player, was denied bail.

AP

Carlos Ortiz, in a photo provided Friday by the Connecticut Department of Correction.

AP

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He is remembered as a fun-loving teenager at Bristol Central High School, where he followed in the footsteps of his older brother, D.J., who would star as a quarterback and tight end at the University of Connecticut.

Some recall him struggling with the death of his father, Dennis, in 2006, but remaining determined to become a pro athlete, spending hours working out before and after school. As Bristol police assist Massachusetts investigators, arresting one local man as a fugitive from justice, the community was left to ponder the fall of the hometown hero with the $40 million pro contract and a new family of his own.

A former high school teammate, Andrew Ragali, 24, said the troubled street hood he has seen portrayed on television is not the Aaron Hernandez he knew.

"You could maybe say he was immature, but he wasn't a gang-banger at all," Ragali said. "I think when he went to college things might have changed, hanging around with the wrong people, but in high school, he wasn't like that at all."

The 23-year-old Hernandez was arrested Wednesday at his mansion in North Attleborough, Mass., and accused of orchestrating the execution-style shooting of his friend, Odin Lloyd, allegedly because Lloyd had talked to the wrong people at a nightclub. He was denied bail at a hearing Thursday in a Massachusetts courtroom, where a prosecutor said a Hummer belonging to Hernandez turned up an ammunition clip matching the caliber of casings found at the scene of Lloyd's killing.

Hernandez's lawyer argued his client is not a risk to flee and the case against him is circumstantial.

On June 16, the night before the slaying, a prosecutor said, Hernandez texted two unidentified friends and asked them to hurry to Massachusetts from Connecticut. A few minutes later, he texted Lloyd to tell him he wanted to get together, the prosecutor said. Authorities say the three picked up Lloyd at around 2:30 a.m. June 17, drove him to an industrial park near Hernandez's home and shot him five times. They have not said who fired the shots.

New Britain State's Attorney Brian Preleski said Thursday that his office and Bristol police have been assisting investigators in Massachusetts and that Carlos Ortiz, 27, of Bristol, had been charged as a fugitive from justice. He waived extradition to Massachusetts and was being held on $1.5 million bail in Hartford.

Ortiz's public defender, Alfonzo Sirica, declined to comment about the case.

Massachusetts state police said Thursday night they were seeking another man, Ernest Wallace, in connection with Lloyd's killing. They issued an alert and wanted poster for Wallace, saying he was considered armed and dangerous, and sought the public's help in tracking down a silver or gray 2012 Chrysler 300 with Rhode Island license plates he was seen driving.

In Connecticut, Bristol is known to many as the home of ESPN, Otis Elevator and the Hernandez family.

Aaron and his brother each earned honors as the state's Gatorade high school player of the year, although they played several years apart at Bristol Central. Aaron would often visit his brother at UConn, and at one point verbally committed to follow D.J. and play for UConn himself. But Aaron became too big a star for the state school and signed instead to play at the University of Florida, a national powerhouse where he was an All-American.

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