Death of Hurricanes' Pata ruled a homicide
MIAMI -- Police searched for clues Wednesday in the killing of University of Miami lineman Bryan Pata, the shooting marking the team's fourth death in the last decade.
Pata, a popular figure on campus, practiced Tuesday afternoon and was shot Tuesday night at his apartment complex. It was the latest shock to a Hurricanes team touched by tragedy and turmoil, including a separate gun case this season and a wild on-field brawl last month.
"They just shot him dead," Tonya Casimir, who identified herself as the player's cousin, told ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach by phone from the house of one of Pata's family members. "He's gone."
The 22-year-old senior who grew up in Miami was pronounced dead in the parking lot outside his apartment. His death was ruled a homicide, Miami-Dade police spokesman Roy Rutland said.
Pata's mother, Jeanette Pata, stood outside his apartment Tuesday night wearing a replica of her son's jersey.
"My son had a problem with nobody," a tearful Pata told WTVJ-TV in Miami. "He's gone. He's gone."
Word of Pata's death spread quickly around campus, and grief counselors were summoned for his teammates. An on-campus memorial service will be held next Wednesday at noon.
Miami coach Larry Coker said the team planned to play Saturday against No. 23 Maryland, both "to represent our university and represent Bryan Pata."
"It's very difficult," Coker said. "We're going to get through today. Last night, everybody was in shock and disbelief. Today is a day of reality. It's real. No. 95 will not be at his locker. No. 95 will not be in the stretch line. That's the reality of it."
"We're trying to get through a hard time right now and it's going to take time," Miami quarterback Kirby Freeman told The Associated Press after a team meeting at the university's athletic complex. "And that's what being a close football family is all about. We're going to help each other with this."
School officials said coach Larry Coker was "numb" over the news. The athletic department released a statement urging anyone with information about Pata's death to call police.
"Bryan was a fine person and a great competitor. He will be forever missed by his coaches and teammates. We offer our thoughts and prayers to his family," the university said in a statement.
A moment of silence was held at Miami Central High, Pata's alma mater, Wednesday morning, said Anthony Saunders, his high school coach.
"He was a great kid. A well-mannered, well-disciplined kid," Saunders said. "It never seemed like he had any problems. Everything was always on track. He was going to the NFL and then he got shot in the head."
Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford was working with Miami officials to gather information, conference spokeswoman Amy Yakola said.
Rutland said police were called at 7:30 p.m. to the scene and found Pata's body. He lived about 4 miles from campus. No motive was released, and Miami-Dade police did not say who made the 911 call after the shooting.
"Right now, we're just gathering ourselves and just trying to pull ourselves together," athletic director Paul Dee told the AP.
The 6-foot-4, 280-pound defensive lineman was in his fourth year with the Hurricanes and was expected to be selected in next spring's NFL draft. He appeared in 41 games, making 23 starts. Pata played primarily defensive tackle this season, totaling 13 tackles and two sacks.
"Pata was a guidance counselor, in a way, of our football team," Freeman said. "He wasn't the captain of the team, yet people would look to Pata for direction on the way things are going. He was definitely a great leader."
Pata was fierce on the field but somewhat soft-spoken off it.
"Everyone is just more surprised than anything else," said Annette Ponnock, Miami's student body president. "He's such a personality on campus. It was just really, really shocking to have such a loss. ... He was a big guy so it was kind of hard to miss him. He just had a presence about him."
This was at least the fourth time that tragedy involving a player has struck the Hurricanes in recent years.
In April 1996, reserve linebacker and Miami native Marlin Barnes was murdered in a campus apartment. And in 2003, former Miami safety Al Blades was killed in a car accident, about a year after former Miami linebacker Chris Campbell -- who had just completed his eligibility with the Hurricanes -- also died in a crash.
In July, reserve safety Willie Cooper was shot in the buttocks when confronted in his yard before morning workout. Cooper was not seriously injured. Brandon Meriweather, one of Cooper's teammates and roommates, returned fire at Cooper's assailant, taking three shots that apparently missed, police said.
Several Miami players, including Pata, said that was a robbery attempt and cautioned teammates to be aware of their surroundings.
"We're targets because we play for the University of Miami. ... These guys, they know who we are," Miami linebacker Jon Beason said shortly after the Cooper shooting.
That prompted Coker to say that he did not want his players to have guns, even if they possessed them legally.
Last month, Miami brawled on the field with Florida International, a melee where fists, feet and helmets became weapons. In all, 31 players were punished, including 13 Hurricanes.
Pata played three seasons at North Miami High before moving on to Miami Central. He chose to attend the University of Miami after also considering Rutgers, Florida and Oklahoma.
Former South Carolina offensive tackle Woodly Telfort, who played football with Pata at North Miami, said he considered him a best friend and cousin.
"Brian was cool, calm and collective," Telfort told ESPN's Joe Schad on Tuesday night. "He would do anything for his friends. He was a guy everybody loved. Bryan never got in trouble with anybody. I have no clue who would do this to him."
Telfort said he'd spoken with Pata several days ago.
"He was talking about how it had been a tough season, but how things were looking good for him going to the NFL," Telfort said. "He was going to play in the NFL."
Said Saunders: "He was a great kid, a Christian. He had everything going for him. He was a role model and a motivator."
North Miami coach Leonard Graham said he was a father figure to Pata.
"Just like any other kid from the inner city, he was looking for a way out," Graham told Schad. "He had his problems, but never had serious trouble. He had learned from his past experiences at Miami and had really grown up into a man."
Graham said Pata had for a time complained about playing time and had missed study halls.
"But I know the streets and to my knowledge he had no conflicts in the streets," Graham said, sobbing. "Maybe someone was jealous. Maybe someone tried to rob him. I have no idea why he was shot. I just know he was shot. I didn't know anyone that disliked him."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.