Williams killed when limo sprayed with bullets

Updated: October 8, 2008, 6:52 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

DENVER -- Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was killed early Monday when his white stretch Hummer was sprayed by bullets after a nightclub dispute following a New Year's Eve party.

Williams sustained a single gunshot wound to the neck, according to Robert Whitmore, chief medical examiner in the county coroner's office.

Police have no motive and no indication the 24-year-old Williams, a former Oklahoma State star, was targeted in the drive-by shooting of the limousine. The burst of violence occurred hours after the Broncos were eliminated from playoff contention.

"All of us are devastated by this tragedy," Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said in a statement. "To lose a young player, and more important, a great young man such as Darrent Williams, is incomprehensible. To lose him in such a senseless manner as this is beyond words."

Darrent Williams: 1982-2007
Darrent Williams
An emotional Tatum Bell reacted to the death of teammate Darrent Williams on Cold Pizza. Bell was also Williams' teammate at Oklahoma State.
• To watch, click here. ESPN Video
Mike Evans of KKFN Radio in Denver, who used to host a radio show with Williams, tells who the Broncos starting right cornerback was as a person.
• To listen, click here.
Statement from Broncos coach Mike Shanahan:
"Losing a fine young man such as Darrent Williams leaves me speechless with sadness. We all know that Darrent was an excellent player, but as a person, he was a first-class young man who brightened every room with his smile, attitude and personality. I cannot express how heartsick I feel at this loss."
• For more reaction to Williams' death, click here.

A little after 2 a.m., the limousine was fired on from a vehicle that pulled up along its side, hitting three people, police spokesman Sonny Jackson said. As many as a dozen bullet holes were visible on the driver's side of the vehicle. One window was blown out.

Police were searching for a white Suburban or Tahoe with dark-tinted windows. Jackson wouldn't identify any of the other passengers nor would he confirm whether any other Broncos players were in the limo, which can hold 23 people.

However, two team sources told ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli that wide receiver Javon Walker was one of the passengers.

Walker, who declined to speak with reporters when he arrived at the Broncos' facilities Monday to gather with players and coaches, appeared to have blood spattered across his shirt.

Also wounded were Brandon Flowers and Nicole Reindl. They were taken to St. Anthony Central Hospital.

The Rocky Mountain News reported that Reindl is a 21-year-old University of Colorado student. Reindl told her father that she and a friend accepted a ride in the limo to their car.

According to the newspaper, Reindl said that Williams was riding in the back of the limo and she was seated in the left corner of the vehicle. After a few blocks in the limo, she thought someone had thrown a rock through the window. Then one of the passengers shouted that there were gunshots and many of the passengers dived for the floor.

The Rocky Mountain News also reported that Reindl has a bullet lodged in her head and doctors are still considering whether or not to remove it.

Coach Mike Shanahan said the killing left him "speechless with sadness."

"We all know that Darrent was an excellent player, but as a person, he was a first-class young man who brightened every room with his smile, attitude and personality," Shanahan said. "I cannot express how heartsick I feel at this loss."

Balloons, teddy bears, flowers, signs and candles were among items that have since been left at the crime scene. Similar items have been left in front of a sign at Broncos headquarters in Englewood.

Jackson said there was a dispute at a nightclub several blocks from the shooting where Williams and his group had attended a party. He said the argument didn't specifically involve Williams, according to witnesses, and the confrontation wasn't physical, just taunts. He also said there were no shots fired from inside the limo.

"Why this happened, we're not sure," Jackson said.

The club identified by police advertised a New Year's Eve event celebrating the birthday of Denver Nuggets basketball player Kenyon Martin. The Nuggets canceled practice Monday.

Mark Warkentien, Denver's vice president of basketball operations, said police spoke with him but asked him not to comment. "We'll respectfully honor their request," Warkentien said. "And if the Denver police need us in any way, we'll cooperate fully."

"I was there. He was there. I left. I saw him. That was about the extent of it," Martin told The Denver Post. "It is what it is. It's an unfortunate thing."

Martin told the newspaper that he and other Nuggets players present left the nightclub before midnight.

Senseless loss
The NFL at its core is a big fraternity and today we lost one of our own. I didn't know Darrent Williams that well. We'd only met once or twice, the first time coming after he was drafted by the Broncos in the second round of the 2005 draft. He was excited to start his new journey and was confident that he could prove he belonged in this league. He did prove he belonged on the big stage.

In the coming days we're going to hear a lot of stuff about how athletes were out of control in 2006, but we can't forget that this was a 24-year old kid who lost his life. This is bigger than a football player or a football team; this is about a kid whose life ended prematurely. This is about a kid who was realizing his dreams and it just smacks of senselessness to me. There's no reason we should be writing eulogies for 24-year old kids … absolutely none.

My heart goes out to his family and friends who are suffering from this untimely loss.

-- Mark Schlereth

The club -- variously called Shelter or Safari -- is on the second floor of a building in a once-seedy stretch south of downtown that has a growing number of trendy bars, clubs and restaurants. Outside, the building was unmarked except for a big sign from a former occupant, Jonas Bros Furs. Inside, the ceiling was strung with Christmas lights and set off with several fireplaces.

Hours after the shooting, the limo sat in a snowbank beside Speer Boulevard, a main street through downtown. Police and technicians worked amid snow and ice from recent storms, using small yellow plastic markers to indicate possible evidence.

"His heart was so big, he was always giving to those who didn't have," said Williams' mother, Rosalind Williams, who flew to Denver from Fort Worth. "It didn't even have to be for an agency or a charity. If he knew you didn't have, he'd hand it out of his pocket.

"Maybe that's why he did so much, because he knew his time on Earth was limited."

The previous active NFL player to die was Thomas Herrion of San Francisco. He had a heart attack following an exhibition game in Denver on Aug. 20, 2005.

Williams was a second-round draft choice in 2005 out of Oklahoma State and teamed with Champ Bailey to give Denver one of the NFL's top cornerback tandems. Williams finished the season with 88 tackles, 78 of them solo, and four interceptions.

His college coach, Mike Gundy, called the death a "tragic loss for the Broncos family, Oklahoma State University and anyone who knew Darrent Williams. It's a loss that goes far beyond the football field."

Broncos players and coaches didn't have to report to work Monday but about 20 of them gathered at team headquarters to console each other, including Walker.

"Any time you lose a guy who was close to everyone, it hurts," punter Paul Ernster said. "From the get-go, he was like one of your good friends."

NFL players shot
Darrent Williams is the third NFL player to be shot in the past 12 months and the first to die.

To read a partial list of NFL players who have been shot since 1992, click here.

Anthony Criss, Williams' high school football coach in Fort Worth, Texas, said: "When he was younger, he always gravitated to the wrong crowd. I remember he went to church and the minister was talking to him about needing to pray and stop hanging around with the wrong people, and he started straightening up and doing the right thing."

In December, Williams spoke of returning to his hometown this offseason to talk to youngsters about staying out of gangs. Williams, who has two young children in the Fort Worth area, recently talked to Criss about establishing a free football camp for youth players.

"He wanted to be a good parent, a good father, a good example for his kids," Criss said. "He will be missed."

A viewing was scheduled Friday evening at the Great Commission Baptist Church in Fort Worth, with the funeral scheduled for noon local time Saturday at the same church, Griffin said. A family friend said all services will be open to the public.

Last April, Nuggets guard Julius Hodge was shot while driving on Interstate 76 in Denver. In 2003, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, who played at Colorado State, was shot outside a Denver sports bar.

"Since then, I carry myself in a different type of way," Porter said Monday. "I respect my situation whenever I go out. I take a whole different outlook when I go out. I make sure I feel like I'm safe and if I'm not, I'm not going."

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.