Baylor plans memorial for slain basketball player

Updated: August 28, 2003, 11:59 PM ET

WACO, Texas -- A piano and an organ played the comforting strands of "It is Well With My Soul" as somber students and faculty members gathered Thursday night to remember a slain Baylor University basketball player.

A simple arrangement of flowers sat beneath a tall stained glass window depicting Christ at the front of Powell Chapel, as grieving friends and family joined those who never knew Patrick Dennehy in paying tribute to the handsome, 6-foot-10 forward whose body was found last month.

"We mourn the death, but even more we celebrate the life of Patrick Dennehy," Todd Lake, Baylor's dean of university ministries, told the crowd of 300 before Baylor President Robert Sloan led a prayer asking for God's comfort and grace.

"Oh Lord, we do not grieve as those who have no hope, but we do grieve," he said.

"Patrick had such big aspirations in life. His dream was to play in the NBA and then to work in the front office in public relations," said John Cunningham, a Baylor communications professor who was close to Dennehy. Cunningham described him as one of the finest students he had ever taught.

Jessica De La Rosa, Dennehy's girlfriend of two years, said he believed where a person started wasn't as important as where they finished.

"Even though Patrick's body perished, his soul is alive," she said. "His soul is up in heaven ... so God's got him and Patrick finished as strongly as anybody ever could."

Dennehy's mother, Valorie Brabazon, dabbed her eyes with a tissue as Dick Bernal, pastor of Jubilee Christian Center in San Jose, Calif., recalled her son's life and commitment to Christianity.

"Patrick has not left us, he's just gone ahead of us," Lake said before mourners stood and sang "Amazing Grace."

Brabazon, wearing a picture of her son pinned to a blue ribbon attached to her dress, said after the service that she felt comforted by talking to her son's friends and professors.

"Actually it was very hard for me to go to a second memorial," said Brabazon. She had attended a service for her son in California earlier this month. "When it's your son, the hurt is still there. It hurts all over again."

Thursday's memorial service marked the first event honoring Dennehy, 21, on the 722-acre campus on the banks of the Brazos River, where massive, spire-topped brick buildings tower above trees.

Scott Drew, hired to replace former coach Dave Bliss, and Dennehy's remaining teammates all attended the service. Speaking on behalf of the team before the memorial began, senior captain Matt Sayman said the players would take the night off from thinking or talking about basketball and dedicate it to remembering Dennehy.

"It's a real important night because we've kind of been holding on to this for awhile now," Sayman said. "It's kind of a chance to let go and grieve together."

He said Dennehy's death helps put life in perspective: "How short this life is and how quick it can go."

He remembered Dennehy as a good friend and teammate.

Former athletic director Tom Stanton, who resigned along with Bliss on Aug. 8 after major violations in the basketball program were announced, hugged the players before they walked into the chapel. Bliss did not attend the service.

With most students away on summer vacation as details of Dennehy's slaying rocked the Central Texas university, Baylor lacked typical symbols of grief such as ribbons, flower bouquets and candlelight vigils.

"Our students were gone when these tragic events unfolded this summer," Lake said earlier. "They just arrived back on Monday, and this is a chance to gather in the first few days to have a service of worship and comfort those who are sad."

Dennehy, 21, never got to play in Baylor's gold-domed arena.

After transferring to Baylor last summer from New Mexico, Dennehy couldn't play for a year because of NCAA rules. He wasn't as well-known as other team members among the 14,000 students but had several close friends.

Carlton Dotson, who played basketball at Baylor last season and lived with Dennehy a few months, was arrested July 21 in his home state of Maryland. He was indicted for murder Wednesday and could be extradited to Texas in the next 60 days.

Dennehy had been missing about six weeks when his body was found July 25 in a field near a rock quarry southeast of town. He had been shot twice in the head.

Dotson's estranged wife, Melissa Kethley, attended the service and hugged the players, Dennehy's mother and girlfriend afterward.

Dennehy's stepfather, Brian Brabazon, and the player's teenage sister -- who live in Carson City, Nev. -- could not attend the Baylor service because of work and school conflicts, Lake said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index