Police not ruling on woman's death

Updated: July 10, 2009, 12:13 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Shot twice in the head and two more times in the chest, former NFL quarterback Steve McNair was the victim of a homicide, police declared Sunday. But authorities wouldn't say it was a murder-suicide -- even with his 20-year-old girlfriend dead at his feet from a single bullet.

McNair, 36, had been dating Sahel Kazemi for several months, and Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron said Sunday that a semiautomatic pistol was found under her body. She was shot in the head. He was discovered in a seated position on a sofa in the living room.

A public memorial for McNair was set for Thursday at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Whites Creek, Tenn., north of Nashville, from 4 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. ET, according to The Tennessean.

It was like something you might imagine seeing on TV or in the movies, but never imagine you would see it firsthand, to have that happen to someone you love.

-- Robert Gaddy, as told to
The Tennessean

A memorial service was scheduled for 8 p.m. ET at the church, the newspaper reported. A funeral was also expected for Saturday in Hattiesburg, Miss., though that service was still being finalized.

McNair, who was married with four sons, had a permit to carry a handgun in Tennessee, and he was arrested once before with a 9mm weapon although charges in the case were dropped. Police said they had not yet determined who owned the gun found at the scene.

Investigators weren't looking for a suspect but were questioning friends of the couple as well as Kazemi's ex-boyfriend. They were also waiting for results of drug and other laboratory tests before deciding whether McNair was killed in a lovers' quarrel.

"That's a very important part of the investigation as we work to ultimately classify Miss Kazemi's death," Aaron said.

The details surfacing after McNair's death stand in stark contrast to the public persona he enjoyed during his career.

McNair repeatedly played through serious injuries and pain to win, though he came up a yard short of forcing overtime on the Tennessee Titans' famous drive to lose the 2000 Super Bowl.

Generous, he frequently took part in charity work for both the Titans and later the Baltimore Ravens after a 2006 trade. McNair helped load donated food, water and clothes onto tractor-trailers that he had arranged for Hurricane Katrina victims, and he paid for three football camps for children this year.

McNair and Kazemi were found dead at a Nashville condominium, which overlooks LP Field, the Titans' stadium, and was rented out to McNair and his friend Wayne Neeley. Police believe both McNair and Kazemi died early Saturday. Neeley found the bodies hours later and called a friend, Robert Gaddy, who played at Alcorn State with McNair. Gaddy dialed 911.

"It was like something you might imagine seeing on TV or in the movies, but never imagine you would see it firsthand, to have that happen to someone you love. I am still shook up,'' Gaddy told The Tennessean.

"People have certain things that they do in life," Gaddy told The Associated Press. "We don't need to look on the situation at this time [but] on the fact we just lost a great member of society."

The quarterback's agent, Bus Cook, said he had never heard Kazemi's name until news of the shooting broke Saturday. What McNair's wife, Mechelle, knew wasn't clear Sunday.

"It doesn't make any sense. I don't know what to say," Cook said.

According to the New York Daily News, which cited unnamed sources close to McNair, his wife may have been unaware of the affair until learning of the circumstances of his death.

"She's blindsided by this," the newspaper quoted a source as saying of Mechelle McNair. "She's crushed. Her whole world is shattered."

Cook said Mechelle was "in and out of it." He said she had no comment after the police called her husband's death a homicide.

Mechelle was "very upset, very distraught" Sunday, Cook said. She was preparing to finish the funeral arrangements Monday.

McNair split his time between Nashville and his farm in Mount Olive, Miss. He recently opened a restaurant near Tennessee State University that was aimed at serving healthy, affordable food to college students.

McNair was also seen so often at Kazemi's apartment that a neighbor thought he lived there.

McNair met Kazemi when his family ate often at the Dave & Buster's restaurant she worked at as a server, and the two began dating in a relationship that included a vacation with parasailing. Photos posted on TMZ.com showed McNair gazing and smiling at the young Kazemi.

"She pretty obviously got mixed up way over her head with folks," said Reagan Howard, a neighbor of Kazemi's.

A man who answered the door at a house in the Jacksonville, Fla., suburb of Orange Park said it was the home of Kazemi's family, but said her relatives did not want to comment.

[+] EnlargeSahel Kazemi
AP Photo/Davidson County Sheriff/The TennesseanSahel Kazemi apparently met Steve McNair while working as a waitress at a sports bar and restaurant.

"We don't have anything to say; please leave us alone," he said.

The victim's sister, Soheyla Kazemi, told the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville that the young woman had expected McNair to get a divorce. "She said they were planning to get married."

Kazemi often was dropped off by limousine in the early morning hours and recently went from driving a Kia to a 2007 Cadillac Escalade registered to both herself and McNair. Her niece told The Tennessean that Kazemi thought McNair was divorcing his wife of 12 years soon.

Nashville courts had no record of a McNair divorce case, but a home he owned in Nashville is on the market for $3 million.

The real estate agent declined to comment. Her online listing for property described it as a "gigantic house" of more than 14,000 square feet, and photos showed a pool, home theater, baby grand piano and ornate furnishings throughout.

Fred McNair, Steve McNair's oldest brother, said some family members likely would travel to Nashville on Monday.

"It's still kind of hard to believe," Fred McNair said. "He was the greatest person in the world. He gave back to the community. He loved kids and he wanted to be a role model to kids."

McNair and Kazemi were together Thursday night when she was pulled over driving the Escalade. She was arrested on DUI charges, and he was allowed to leave in a taxi even though he was charged with drunken driving in 2007 when his brother-in-law was stopped for DUI while driving McNair's pickup truck.

An arrest affidavit from Thursday said Kazemi had bloodshot eyes and alcohol on her breath when she was pulled over but refused a Breathalyzer test, telling police "she was not drunk, she was high."

According to The Tennessean, McNair later bailed Kazemi out of jail.

Kazemi's ex-boyfriend, Keith Norfleet, told The Tennessean that he and Kazemi had dated for about four years, but broke up five months ago. He said he was concerned about her dating a married man, the newspaper reported.

"She is the sweetest girl, and she did not deserve this," Norfleet said upon learning of her death. "He was making her believe they were going to be together and everything would be perfect."

McNair led the Titans to the 2000 Super Bowl, which they lost 23-16 to the St. Louis Rams despite his 87-yard drive in the final minute and 48 seconds. He was co-MVP of the NFL with Colts quarterback Peyton Manning in 2003.

Manning said in a statement Sunday that he had some great battles with the quarterback.

"Sharing the NFL MVP honor with him in 2003 was special because of what a great football player he was," Manning said. "I had the opportunity to play in a couple of Pro Bowls with him, and the time spent with him in Hawaii I'll never forget. I'll truly miss him."

The Titans drafted Vince Young in 2006 to replace McNair, who had mentored him since he was a teenager. They never played together but did play against each other that year.

"He was like a father to me. I hear his advice in my head with everything I do. Life will be very different without him," Young said in a statement Sunday.

"Steve and I had a mutually respected friendship. He was one of the great warriors to ever put on a football uniform at any position," former Houston Oilers quarterback Warren Moon said. "His competitiveness and toughness were unparalleled. He was always a gentleman, and very giving off the field. One of the great people in our league was taken from us way too soon."

Added former Titans safety Blaine Bishop: "Steve was an absolute warrior as a player and brought that mindset to the team. Whether he was hurt or not, he was going to give us everything he had. He was the toughest player that I ever played with. ... The thing I will always remember about him was whether it was a good or bad on the field, the whole team -- both offense and defense -- believed he would lead us to victory if we could just get the ball in his hands at the end of the game."

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith called McNair a leader.

"From the time he was a heralded college quarterback and throughout his playing career he set the standard for excellence, toughness and professionalism," Smith said in a statement. "In doing so, he was not only a trailblazer for hundreds of players and future quarterbacks, but he was the hero for kids in many neighborhoods. He was their player. He was their quarterback. He will remain all of those things forever and I along with thousands of fans will miss him."

McNair grew up in Mount Olive and became a football star at Alcorn State, the Division I-AA school in his home state as he dominated the Southwestern Athletic Conference. He became a Heisman Trophy contender as reporters flocked to little Lorman, Miss., to watch the man known as "Air McNair."

He still holds the Division I-AA (now known as Football Championship Subdivision) records for career passing yards (14,496) and total offense (16,823). McNair was drafted in 1995 by the Houston Oilers, who eventually became the Titans.

Picked four times for the Pro Bowl, McNair finished with 31,304 yards passing and 174 touchdowns. He led both the Titans and Ravens to playoff berths, including two AFC Championship Game appearances with Tennessee. Injuries finally led to his retirement after the 2007 season

Besides his wife, McNair is survived by his sons Junior, Steven, Tyler and Trenton.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.