Why now? Is there more to the story? What happens to his estate?
Authorities offered few answers after Hernandez was found hanging from a bedsheet Wednesday in his cell in a maximum-security prison in Massachusetts, where he was serving a life sentence for the 2013 slaying of a onetime friend.
His death came hours before his former New England Patriots teammates visited the White House to celebrate their Super Bowl victory. Hernandez, 27, died five days after a jury acquitted him in the 2012 shooting deaths of two men whom prosecutors alleged he gunned down after one accidentally spilled a drink on him at a Boston nightclub.
The apparent suicide left friends, family and his legal team shocked and in disbelief. Many were searching for an explanation to the tragic end of a young man whose football skills at one point earned him a five-year, $40 million contract extension with the NFL’s top franchise.
“There were no conversations or correspondence from Aaron to his family or legal team that would have indicated anything like this was possible,” said his attorney, Jose Baez. “Aaron was looking forward to an opportunity for a second chance to prove his innocence. Those who love and care about him are heartbroken and determined to find the truth surrounding his untimely death.”
Guards found Hernandez shortly after 3 a.m. Wednesday at the state prison in Shirley, Correction Department spokesman Christopher Fallon said. The former tight end was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead about an hour later.
Fallon said he was not aware of any suicide note and officials had no reason to believe Hernandez was suicidal. Otherwise, he would have been transferred to a mental health unit, Fallon said.
The Worcester County district attorney’s office and the Correction Department were investigating, and Massachusetts’ chief medical examiner was conducting an autopsy.
The Patriots had no immediate comment, and President Donald Trump made no mention of Hernandez at the White House event.
A star tight end for the University of Florida when it won the 2008 title, Hernandez dropped to the fourth round of the NFL draft because of trouble in college that included a failed drug test and a bar fight. His name also had come up in an investigation into a shooting.
Still, he was a productive tight end for the Patriots for three seasons. He caught 79 passes for 910 yards and seven touchdowns in his second year to help the team reach the Super Bowl.
But the Patriots released him in 2013, shortly after he was arrested in the killing of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancee. Hernandez was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Last week, Hernandez was acquitted in the 2012 drive-by shootings of two men in Boston. As the jury deliberated, cameras spied Hernandez blowing kisses to the young daughter he fathered with fiancee Shayanna Jenkins.
Investigators suggested Hernandez shot Lloyd to keep him quiet about the two earlier killings. A lawyer who represents Lloyd’s mother said she’s moving forward with a wrongful-death lawsuit against Hernandez’s estate, which includes a home valued at $1.3 million.
In the Dorchester neighborhood where Lloyd grew up, a family friend of the victim wondered if Hernandez could no longer bear the weight of his crime and his squandered potential.
“I just think it got to him — the guilt,” Mixson Philip said. “Each man has to live with himself. You can put on an act like nothing happened, but you’ve got a soul. You’ve got a heart.”
Friends also were grieving in Connecticut, where Hernandez was raised.
“Especially after him getting acquitted of the double murder. That was a positive thing in our minds,” said Alex Cugno, who grew up with Hernandez in Bristol. “I don’t believe that he would have killed himself. It just doesn’t add up.”
Collins contributed from Hartford, Connecticut. AP writers Jimmy Golen, Denise Lavoie, Mark Pratt and William J. Kole in Boston also contributed to this report.