Cops say Kazemi bought gun

Updated: July 10, 2009, 12:08 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Police say the gun found at the scene where former NFL star Steve McNair died was bought by his girlfriend less than two days before the two were shot to death.

Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron said Monday that 20-year-old Sahel Kazemi bought the semiautomatic handgun Thursday evening from a person he didn't name.

An autopsy showed that McNair and Kazemi died early Saturday. He was shot four times and his death has been ruled a homicide. She was shot once and Aaron said police are still waiting for ballistics and gunpowder-residue tests before deciding if she was slain or committed suicide.

Citing autopsy results, The Tennessean reported that three of McNair's four gunshot wounds were fired from more than three feet away. One of the gunshots to his temple was fired at close range, the newspaper said.

The Tennessean also reported Kazemi's gunshot wound was a contact shot, which means the gun was touching her head when it was fired.

[+] 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.

"All the autopsy tells us is that her wound is potentially self inflicted," state medical examiner Bruce Levy told the newspaper. "In these cases, the cause of death is obvious. The manner of death a little trickier. We like to have as many factors as possible before we make a determination."

Their bodies were found in a Nashville condominium that overlooks the Tennessee Titans' stadium and was leased by McNair, who was 36.

Aaron said that as far as he knows McNair was not with Kazemi when she got the gun.

Farzin Abdi, a nephew of Kazemi, said earlier Monday he does not believe Kazemi would have killed former Titans quarterback McNair and herself.

"There was no way she was depressed and wanting to do this," he said. "She was so happy. ... She just had it made, you know, [with] this guy taking care of everything."

Abdi said Kazemi had no motive to kill McNair.

Aaron said a solution to the case may not be as neatly resolved as people would like.

"It may be we'll never know exactly why this happened," he said.

McNair had been dating Kazemi for several months. They were found dead by McNair's friend Wayne Neeley, who had rented the condo along with McNair. Neeley then called a friend, Robert Gaddy, who played at Alcorn State with McNair. Gaddy dialed 911.

Aaron said Sunday that a semiautomatic pistol was found under Kazemi's body. She was shot in the head. McNair was discovered in a seated position on a sofa in the living room, shot twice in the head and two more times in the chest.

Abdi said Kazemi believed McNair was divorcing his wife and Kazemi was preparing to sell her furniture to move in with him.

"I think she had already put her stuff up for sale on Craigslist," Abdi said.

Appearing at a news conference Monday at Titans headquarters, a somber coach Jeff Fisher said, "The Steve McNair I knew would want me to say, 'Celebrate my life, for what I did on the field, for what I did in the community, for the kind of teammate that I was.' That's what the Steve I knew would want me to say."

Fisher had been in Iraq as part of an NFL trip last week to visit the military. His cell phone service resumed after the group landed in Kuwait, and Fisher noticed a string of calls had come in when Eddie George called and wound up informing the coach of McNair's death.

Fisher said he's still shocked by McNair's death at 36.

"This is hard. This is hard on everybody. This is not an easy thing. There will be a void. Again, I'll fill that void with those memories. That's what we have to do," Fisher said.

A public memorial and viewings are scheduled later this week for McNair. The public will have a couple of opportunities to attend viewings in Nashville on Thursday and a memorial will be held later that evening at Mount Zion Baptist Church.

A second memorial service will be held Saturday at Reed Green Coliseum in Hattiesburg, Miss., on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi. McNair, 36, was from Mount Olive, a small town nearby.

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 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 even helped load donated food, water and clothes onto tractor-trailers that he had arranged for Hurricane Katrina victims, and paid for three football camps for children himself this year.

Mechelle McNair, his wife of 12 years and mother of two of his four sons born between 1991 and 2004, has been described by police as very distraught about his death and has not commented on it.

Some close to McNair -- his brother Fred and his agent, Bus Cook -- have said they knew nothing of Kazemi before the shootings. Fisher said Monday, "The Steve that I knew, if he were here right now, would want to say, 'Mechelle, I love you.'"

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 his death a homicide.

No court records of divorce proceedings have surfaced so far. The strongest public evidence that the McNairs might have been estranged is that their 14,000-square-foot Nashville home has been up for sale recently, listed at $3 million.

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

In retirement, McNair had opened Gridiron9 near the Tennessee State University campus. It sells deep-fried hot dogs for $3.50, Cajun catfish sandwiches for $6.50 and Southern-style chicken strips for $6.75.

Television news footage showed McNair putting used trays away inside the eatery after dumping scraps in a trash can.

"He had a sweet spirit," Kimberly Hardy, a 25-year-old McNair admirer, said outside the restaurant, where mourners have been gathering and leaving flowers and writing notes on the front window.

The night before he died, McNair went alone to the Blue Moon Lagoon Restaurant where he met another couple around 10:30 p.m. and then left by himself about 1 a.m., said James Weathers, manager of the restaurant.

Weathers said McNair visited there occasionally and "was always alone, but he'd meet a group of friends." The manager described McNair as always friendly, "never a big drinker," gracious with constant photo-seekers.

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.

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

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

Earlier this year, Kazemi and McNair took trips to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Key West, Fla., and Mississippi, said Abdi, the nephew. McNair had been seen at Kazemi's Nashville apartment two to three times a week.

"They were together all the time unless he was taking his kids on vacation," Abdi said.

Kazemi was born in Iran but left in 2000, fleeing religious persecution for her family's Baha'i faith, Abdi said. They spent 2½ years in Turkey before moving to Florida. Later Kazemi dropped out of high school and, at age 17, moved with a boyfriend to Nashville, where she sometimes worked two or three jobs to support herself.

She liked not depending on anyone for money, and she told her nephew that McNair admired her independent nature.

"He liked her so much because they would go shopping and stuff and she would want to spend her own money," Abdi said. "The reason he said he loves her is because she's not trying to use him like other girls. She was different from other girls he had been with."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.