One of the strangest, saddest sagas in NFL history came to an end on Wednesday morning, as the Massachusetts Department of Corrections says Aaron Hernandez killed himself in his prison cell.
The news comes just days after Hernandez was acquitted of a double murder. Hernandez was still serving a life sentence after being found guilty in the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd.
Hernandez was 27.
In a statement, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections outlined the event:
“On April 19, 2017, Aaron Hernandez was discovered hanged in his cell by corrections officers at the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts at approximately 3:05 a.m., lifesaving techniques were attempted on Mr. Hernandez and he was transported to UMASS Leominster where he was pronounced dead at 4:07 a.m. by a physician at the hospital.
“Mr. Hernandez was in a single cell in a general population housing unit. Mr. Hernandez hanged himself utilizing a bed sheet that he attached to his cell window. Mr. Hernandez also attempted to block his door from the inside by jamming the door with various items. The Massachusetts State Police are on scene and the investigation continues. Mr. Hernandez’s next of kin have been notified.”
Hernandez leaves a daughter, 4-year old Avielle (she shares his November birthday), a fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, his mother, and older brother. His father, Dennis, died from complications after surgery when Hernandez was 16.
In a strange coincidence, Hernandez’s former team is scheduled to visit the White House on Wednesday to celebrate the Patriots’ win over the Atlanta Falcons last February. A team spokesperson told the Boston Globe the Patriots were aware of Hernandez’s death but “don’t anticipate that we will be commenting today.”
Raised in Bristol, Conn., Hernandez went on to win a national championship with the University of Florida in 2008. The New England Patriots drafted him in the fourth round in 2010, the same year they drafted Rob Gronkowski. Head coach Bill Belichick had long wanted to feature a two-tight-end offense, and in Hernandez and Gronkowski, he got the two players who could make that happen.
As rookies, Hernandez and Gronkowski combined for 87 catches and 16 touchdowns, and the next year was even better. In 2011, Hernandez recorded 79 catches for 910 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Patriots were so excited by what they saw from the duo that in the 2012 preseason, they made the almost-unprecedented move of giving both Hernandez and Gronkowski contract extensions after just two full seasons. On the day Hernandez’s extension was announced, he was emotional as he thanked New England owner Robert Kraft and the team for believing in him, and made declarations about becoming a role model for the Hispanic community.
Hernandez played just 10 games that year as he dealt with knee issues. But as he recovered, he and Jenkins-Hernandez welcomed their daughter, who was born on his 23rd birthday. Hernandez, who had always shown a fondness for children — after training camp practices, he was often spotted chasing or rolling around with the children of teammates and coaches — said it was “the best birthday gift you could have.”
But that’s also around the time whispers about what Hernandez was doing away from the Patriots’ facility began. He had fallen to the fourth round of the draft amid questions about his off-field activity and character; while he served a suspension at Florida, allegedly for failing one drug test, the Boston Globe reported shortly after he was drafted that Hernandez had failed multiple tests with the Gators.
Shortly after he was arrested and charged with the murder of Odin Lloyd in June 2013, an NFL scout read his team’s pre-draft scouting report to me, and one passage stood out, and proved ominous:
“Self-esteem is quite low; not well-adjusted emotionally, not happy, moods unpredictable, not stable, doesn’t take much to set him off, but not an especially jumpy guy,” the scout read.