BRISTOL - The news of Bristol native Aaron Hernandez’s apparent suicide early Wednesday left the community in disbelief, with many expressing the sympathy for the family of the 27-year-old who so many in town once looked up to.
The former star athlete at Bristol Central High School, who later went on to play in the NFL for the New England Patriots, was found hanged in his prison cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Mass., at about 3:05 a.m. The fact that the news comes on the heels of Hernandez’s acquittal last week in a double- murder case left many locals asking why.
“I thought he may have had a chance to get out with an appeal,” said Javier Lopez - who grew up in Bristol - referring to the former tight end’s conviction and life sentence in the June 2013 killing of Odin Lloyd. Lloyd was a semiprofessional football player who, at the time of his death, was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée.
“It’s tough. It’s just tough for the family. I feel bad for the little girl,” Lopez said of Hernandez’s 4-year-old daughter.
Lindsey DiPietro, an English teacher at Bristol Central High School, said many teachers in the district share the same sympathy as Lopez, especially given the strong connection the family has with the school system. Hernandez’s mother and uncle work at two schools in the city.
“It’s just a terrible situation,” DiPietro said, adding that Hernandez graduated from BCHS during her first year teaching. “I think the sentiment from most teachers is we feel bad for the family. Our heart just goes out to everyone.”
Annmarie Mercieri, who went to school with Hernandez, said her heart goes out to his mother and older brother.
“Of course what he was convicted of and seeing the path he chose to go down was disheartening, but suicide is absolutely terrible,” Mercieri said. “I can’t imagine what his family must feel first losing a father and now a son (and) brother.”
“That family had gone through so much,” Mercieri continued.
Mayor Ken Cockayne said it’s sad to see someone who was a role model to so many Bristol kids end up like Hernandez.
“First and foremost, our thoughts go out to the victims. Victims come first,” the mayor said. “It’s sad that someone who achieved such greatness took a turn in life and lost it all because he got in with the wrong crowd.”
The greatness Cockayne referred to started in Bristol, where Hernandez broke state records as a receiver playing football for BCHS. He was also a standout athlete in basketball and outdoor track.
Bob Montgomery, a writer for the Press, city historian and the co-founder of the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame, interviewed Hernandez several times before he blossomed into an NFL player in 2010, when he was drafted by the Patriots. During each interview, which was normally when Hernandez was named the Bristol Press Athlete of the Week, he was joined by his father.
“You could see the pride in dad’s eyes,” Montgomery said.
It wasn’t often that student athletes were accompanied to an interview by a parent, Montgomery continued, but even when they were, “you didn’t get the magic you got with those two.”
“You could just see and feel the love they had for each other.”
Hernandez’s father, Dennis, died in January 2006 from complications from hernia surgery. He was 49. Hernandez was 16 at the time.
“His father’s death was probably the biggest cause of what became of him,” Montgomery said. “Had he still been around, I think things would have been better for him.”