Aaron Hernandez was among the most celebrated high school athletes in Connecticut history when he left the state for the University of Florida in January 2007.
The record-setting football player at Bristol Central High would thrive in one of the top college football programs before joining the New England Patriots. Hernandez would play in a Super Bowl, earn a Pro Bowl selection and sign a $40-million contract extension before the start of his third NFL season.
And he was two months shy of his 23rd birthday.
Early Wednesday morning, Hernandez was found dead in his Massachusetts prison cell after apparently hanging himself with a bedsheet. Hernandez, serving a life sentence for a 2013 murder, was 27.
In 2015, Hernandez was convicted in the shooting death of Odin Lloyd, who was dating his fiancee's sister. He was acquitted Friday in a 2012 double slaying that prosecutors alleged was sparked by nightclub altercation over a spilled drink.
On the day he was found dead, Hernandez's former team was honored at the White House after winning the Super Bowl. Hernandez, once considered a core player for the Patriots, was released by the team immediately after he was arrested in June 2013.
A Patriots spokesman said the team would not comment on the death of their former player, and no mention of him was made at the White House.
Hernandez was found by corrections officers at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Mass., shortly after 3 a.m. Wednesday, the state Department of Correction said. The guards attempted lifesaving techniques, and sent him to UMass Memorial-HealthAlliance Hospital in Leominster, Mass. He was pronounced dead at 4:07 a.m.
Hernandez had been in a single cell in a general-population housing unit, the corrections department said. He used a bedsheet that he attached to his cell window.
He also tried to block the entrance to the cell by jamming the door with various items, a corrections statement said.
A prison spokesman said he was not aware of any suicide note. Christopher Fallon, assistant deputy commissioner of communications, also said officials had no indications that Hernandez was planning on taking his own life. Had there been concern about his well-being, he would have been transferred to a mental health unit, he said.
In a statement, Hernandez's lawyer called for an investigation.
“The family and legal team is shocked and surprised at the news of Aaron's death,” attorney Jose Baez said in a statement. “There were no conversations or correspondences from Aaron to his family or legal team that would have indicated anything like this was possible.”
“Those who love and care about him are heartbroken and determined to find the truth surrounding his untimely death. We request that authorities conduct a transparent and thorough investigation,” Baez said.
Baez said his law firm will conduct its own examination of Hernandez's death.
Sports agent Brian Murphy, who represented Hernandez, tweeted Wednesday morning: “Absolutely no chance he took his own life. Chico was not a saint, but my family and I loved him, and he would never take his own life.”
The Associated Press and other Hartford Courant staff writers contributed to this report.
Follow Paul Doyle on Twitter @PaulDoyle1
FROM THE ARCHIVES:
11:15 a.m.: This article has been updated with comments from Hernandez’s lawyer.
7:50 a.m.: This article was updated with background on Hernandez’s NFL career.
5:20 a.m.: This article was updated to add a comment that officials were not aware of a suicide note.
4:40 a.m.: This article was updated with background information on Hernandez’s trial.
4 a.m.: This story was updated with additional information.
This article was originally published at 3:45 a.m.