Official says body found is Patriots defensive end Hill

Updated: May 29, 2007, 1:13 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW ORLEANS -- The body of New England Patriots player Marquise Hill was found Monday, a day after he was reported missing following a personal watercraft accident on Lake Pontchartrain.

Hill's body was discovered by searchers about a quarter of a mile from where the 24-year-old former LSU star and a female companion were involved in the accident, Capt. Brian Clark of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Department said.

"We have suffered a stunning and tragic loss," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a written statement Monday evening. "Marquise will be remembered as a thoughtful and caring young man who established himself as one of the year-round daily fixtures of our team. I send my deepest condolences to the Hill family."

Patriots defensive lineman Jarvis Green, a fellow Louisiana native and former LSU player, echoed those thoughts.

"I lost a brother, man," Green said. "He was a funny guy. ... He'd just sit there and talk to you, say some funny things off his head that'd make you laugh. He was good to be around."

The Coast Guard was called Sunday night, Petty Officer Tom Atkeson said. The search began immediately, using boats and helicopters.

By the time the body was found, the Coast Guard, Wildlife and Fisheries, the New Orleans Police Department and Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Department were involved, Clark said.

Loved ones including Hill's fiancee, Inell Benn, and friends, including Patriots teammate Randall Gay, waited anxiously along the shoreline as the search went on. They consoled one another when authorities told them Hill had been found dead.

"Right now's a terrible time," Benn said. "I don't know what to feel right now."

Gay, who also played with Hill at LSU, had planned to spend the holiday weekend in Baton Rouge, but drove to New Orleans on Monday to monitor the search.

"Knowing that I have to go back to work and go look at his locker this week, it's tough," Gay said.

Hill's body was taken to the Orleans Parish Coroner's office, but phone messages left there and on coroner Frank Minyard's cell phone were not immediately returned.

Hill's agent, Albert Elias, said he had been told Hill and a young woman were riding a personal watercraft Sunday in the lake when both of them went into the water, which had a strong current.

Authorities said the woman was able to make it to a pylon and hang on until she was rescued, while Hill was last seen floating away from the scene.

Hill played on LSU's national championship team and was a second-round draft pick by New England in 2004. Hill had yet to start for the Patriots, playing in 13 games in his NFL career.

"We are absolutely heartbroken," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement. "Marquise was a very respectful young man who worked hard to improve and was always eager to contribute to the team, both on the field and in the community."

The woman, whose identity was not available Monday, was rescued and sent to Tulane Medical Center where she told them Hill had tried to keep her calm as the two were drifting away from each other.

Neither Hill nor the woman wore a life preserver, Atkeson said. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Hill's death was the second on Lake Pontchartrain over the holiday weekend. A man died Sunday afternoon after diving into the water from a boat to rescue his wife from a stalled personal watercraft, but he never reached her, the Mandeville Sheriff's Office reported. The man also was not wearing a flotation device, investigators told the Times-Picayune.

"It's so important to have a life jacket and a signaling device," Atkeson said. "One keeps you afloat and the other helps us find you."

Elias said Hill, a defensive end, spent much of his time since Hurricane Katrina helping rebuild the homes of family members including his mother, Sherry, and the mother of his 2-year-old son.

"From what I hear he's done a lot to help with things after Katrina and I know he had a great passion for the city of New Orleans," said former LSU quarterback Matt Mauck, who was Hill's teammate at LSU. "Off field he was a really kind person, kind of like a gentle giant. And not only for LSU, but for New England and everyone who got a chance to meet him throughout his life, everyone has to be extremely saddened and disappointed to hear the news."

After going to the NFL, Hill continued to do much of his offseason training at LSU's Baton Rouge campus, about 80 miles up the Mississippi River from New Orleans, and was known and admired by current Tigers players, university athletics spokesman Michael Bonnette said.

"His presence meant a lot for some of the younger guys. He gave them someone to look up to and he was always there for them," Bonnette said. "Here's a 6-foot-6, 300-pound guy, as intimidating as can be, and yet every time you approached him he always welcomed you with big old smile. In between the lines, he had his game-face on, but outside the lines, in the community or in the weight room, he was always smiling and having a good time."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.