The stories of two gun deaths both ended with suicides, not even 24 hours apart. Steve Stephens, someone who will be known in this country as the Facebook Killer, was chased down by the Pennsylvania State Police in Erie, Pa., and cornered before finally shooting himself to death. This was two days after he had shot and killed a Cleveland man named Robert Godwin and then posted video of the shooting on Facebook, where it remained for two hours before being taken down.
In the early hours of the next morning, Aaron Hernandez, convicted of first-degree murder almost two years ago exactly in the shooting death of a former semi-pro football player named Odin Lloyd, hung himself with a sheet in his cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Mass., where he was serving a life sentence without possibility of parole, having just been acquitted of the murder of two other people.
Odin Lloyd was shot and killed in the middle of the night in an industrial park in North Attleborough, Mass., not far from where Hernandez once lived. Robert Godwin was shot and killed by Steve Stephens in broad daylight, Godwin on his way back from having an Easter dinner with his family.
Hardly anyone knew Steve Stephens' name until he essentially turned the death of Robert Godwin, a 74-year-old father and grandfather, into a public execution, and thus made himself more famous in America than so many other active shooters over the past several years. Stephens turned this gun death into a show.
Everybody who followed pro football, though, knew the name Aaron Hernandez, who went from high school football in Bristol, Conn., to playing college ball for Urban Meyer at the University of Florida to becoming a star tight end for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, the most successful football team of its time, and one of the most successful in sports history. He became the star Patriot not only accused in the shooting death of Odin Lloyd, but eventually convicted and first sent to prison at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution -- Cedar Junction, about a mile and a half from Gillette Stadium, where Hernandez once caught passes from Brady, the best quarterback of all time, both of them playing for the best coach of all time in Belichick.
So Hernandez was already famous before Odin Lloyd was shot to death. It took Facebook, and then Stephens being on the run for a couple of days, for him to become a famous shooter in a country lousy with shooters. From what we know of Stephens' life, he had very little to throw away and very little to live for before he became a cold-blooded killer. It was far different with Aaron Hernandez. He threw it all away -- fame and money and a talent for football -- before he finally executed himself rather than live out the rest of his life in a jail cell.
One last selfish act from Aaron Hernandez. It is why you sing no sad songs for him today, or about what he had, or what he lost. He had choices and became another convicted bum. Odin Lloyd never had the chances that Hernandez, No. 81 of the Patriots, did.
Hernandez once caught 79 passes in a season for the Patriots and scored seven touchdowns. He caught a touchdown pass from Brady in the second Super Bowl the Patriots lost to the Giants, in Indianapolis. He and Rob Gronkowski were tight ends together in New England. The two of them were big and young and strong and fast and tough, and they were going to change NFL offense. In 2011, when Hernandez was catching those 79 passes, Gronkowski caught 90. He scored 17 touchdowns. So that was 169 receptions combined, and 24 touchdown passes.
And then Hernandez was arrested on June 26, 2013, nine days after Odin Lloyd's body was found. Within two hours of that arrest, the Patriots released Hernandez. Now he is dead in a small cell, a man once cheered in stadiums, on the same day that some of his former teammates would be honored at the White House for the Super Bowl they won on the first Sunday night in February against the Atlanta Falcons.
Xavier Nixon, a former teammate of Hernandez's at Florida, currently an NFL free agent, said this on Twitter:
"I don't care what anyone says. That was the homie. And no one deserves to go out like that."
Somebody should point out to Nixon, whether he and Hernandez were homies once or not, that no one deserves to go out the way Odin Lloyd did in an industrial park in the middle of the night.
No one will ever know for sure what happened in that industrial park in North Attleborough, Mass., what kind of beef there was between Hernandez and Lloyd, and what kind of meanness and anger and sheer punk stupidity brought a gun into it. All we know for sure is how it ended for Lloyd and how it now ends for Hernandez, even as we read the social media condolences for Hernandez, telling him to rest in peace. You wonder if the ones sending out messages like that, the ones like Claude Pelon of the New York Jets, ever felt the same sadness about Odin Lloyd.
But this is what Ike Reese, a former player who now hosts his own radio said on Twitter:
"Damn man ... Aaron Hernandez wow. Had everything he wanted in life then lost it all. RIP.... damn."
So Hernandez dies with his own secrets about Odin Lloyd, dies with his own regrets about how he lost everything and then finally took his own life. Here is something Bob Hohler wrote about Hernandez in the Boston Globe after Hernandez's arrest in 2013:
"But in his alternate life, the lavishly tattooed multimillionaire allegedly consorted with a cadre of ex-convicts from Bristol in a volatile underworld of guns, drugs, and violence. He has been linked by prosecutors and a civil lawsuit to a series of assaults, shootings, and, ultimately, three killings."
He was acquitted in two killings, went down for the killing of Lloyd. Now there will be no prison confessional from him. He will never tell his own story, even though it is likely books will be written about him, and an inevitable movie about his life before and after June 17, 2013, when Odin Lloyd died. But we will never get all the answers about what became of his life.
This will be viewed as some kind of tragedy, because of the talent he did have for football, and the team on which he did become famous, and the famous players with whom he played. There is always a required and bittersweet rhetoric of death in moments like these, especially when it involves a once-star athlete dying young.
But Aaron Hernandez had choices, starting with the one between fame and infamy, all the way to the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center. Hernandez had everything that Odin Lloyd of the Boston Bandits of the New England Football League could have ever possibly dreamed about, or wanted for himself. In the end, he deserved exactly what he got from the justice system for the choices he ultimately made. What sort of choice did Odin Lloyd have?