DORCHESTER, Mass. – Standing outside Odin Lloyd's funeral, Boston Bandits general manger Mike Branch wants to make something clear: "Odin wasn't a drug dealer. He was not no drug dealer. He was hanging with the wrong person."
Sitting on the front steps of his family's house in Dorchester, Safiro Furtado's cousin is upset about how his slain cousin has been characterized. "Oh is he gang-related? Is he in a gang?" people ask him. "That's how they make it seem," the cousin says. "Far from it."
It's been two weeks since Lloyd was found shot dead behind an industrial park in suburban Boston, nearly a year since Furtado and Daniel Abreu were gunned down in a car while driving home from a nightclub. As investigators dig in, the one person being investigated in all three homicides is Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end who not even a year ago signed a five-year, $40 million contract to play football.
Over the last two weeks there's been plenty of talk about how much Hernandez has potentially thrown away. But regardless of who pulled the trigger, there are three victims who have lost a lot more.
The phone rang around 10:30 p.m. that Monday. It went to voicemail. Then came another call. Then another. And another. There were six calls before Daryl Sweet woke up, picked up, and listened to a teammate say two words:
Sweet said nothing. What do you say? A friend is dead. It wasn't the first time.
He hung up.
All year, Sweet and Odin Lloyd lifted weights together – did so daily to get ready for their first game of the season for the Bandits, a semi-pro football team. The opener was less than two weeks away when Sweet got that call, and the game ended up being played on the day Lloyd was lowered into the ground.
Sweet feels like he needs to explain something about Lloyd. Yes, he was shot several times, execution-style, in the middle of the night. Yes, he's from a rough area south of Boston where there's a lot of gang violence.
But it's not like that.
"There's certain people you expect …" Sweet says.
Then he stops himself.
"Me and O were together every day."
A former Bandits teammate named Andy Dorsey came to watch the game his old teammates dedicated to Odin. The whole sad scene felt eerily familiar.
"There's been like six," he says flatly.
He means deaths. Six Boston Bandits have lost their lives since 2001.
"Two of natural causes," Dorsey says, sifting through his memory. "One died in an electrical fire. Two had medical issues. One gunshot. Odin was also a gunshot. One car accident."
If the Boston Red Sox lost six players in 12 years, the tragedy would be felt worldwide. This is "just" a semi-pro team made up of working guys from urban neighborhoods. Football is not their lifestyle, but a way to escape.
But there's no real escape. Lloyd's death made waves beyond this tiny community only because a former New England Patriots player is charged with orchestrating his murder. Otherwise, Lloyd would be just the latest victim.
"It's tough to take," Dorsey says. "One day you're standing next to a guy in the huddle, and the next day he's gone."
For more than a year there was no explanation or understanding why Safiro Furtado and Daniel Abreu were shot sitting in a car while stopped at a light. It must have been something nefarious, right?
Furtado's family sits on the steps of a house on Dorchester's Hamilton Street on a warm Friday afternoon. This is where Safiro would have been today, or perhaps over the hill at a soccer field. Or he could have been around the corner at a restaurant that serves tuna and fried yucca the way it's made in his home country – Cape Verde, an island nation off the coast of Western Africa. Instead Furtado is gone, and one of his cousins, who refuses to give his name, says he's asked all the time what kind of trouble Safiro was into.
He says Furtado didn't have much time for a gang. He arrived on a work visa five months before he died. He barely spoke English and worked three jobs so he could send money home to his mother.
"Now that he's gone," the cousin says. "She has nothing."
Furtado is buried at Mount Hope, which has a section in the rear reserved for the graves of the city's indigent.
"I remember him sitting here on the steps," says Isadora Centeio, another of Furtado's cousins. "It's difficult to sit outside. I can feel his presence."
On July 16, 2012, Furtado and Abreu were at Cure, a nightclub in Boston's theater district – about five miles from Dorchester and 40 miles from Hernandez's home in North Attleborough. It's not a seedy club – not a strip club. It's across the street from a Panera Bread and a California Pizza Kitchen.
Aaron Hernandez was a regular at the club, even on Sunday nights after road games, according to a bouncer who works in the area. "That was his spot," the bouncer said. Reports indicate police believe Hernandez was there on July 16, 2012. The bouncer told Yahoo! Sports Hernandez was there that night.
Furtado and Abreu were shot in their car a few blocks away from the club. They died in a hail of bullets from a vehicle with Rhode Island license plates. Authorities recently towed a similar car from the home of Hernandez's uncle.
Furtado's family is still sitting outside their house on Hamilton Street, waiting for authorities to show up to inform them about the new lead. All they know about the new information connecting their slain loved one to Hernandez is what they hear on the news. Without the media onslaught, would they hear anything at all?
"If they have something," says the cousin of the authorities, "say something."
It's possible the only thing that could bring answers about two unsolved deaths in Dorchester is a third. Two families prayed for some sliver of understanding and it may have come because of another killing.
Furtado's family is now going through a second mourning. Isadora is surrounded by children who don't know what happened.
"Who died?" one asks her. She doesn't answer.
"Hearing the news opens up old wounds," she says, "Like it happened all over again."
The two friends killed last year didn't know the football player killed this year. Yet their families are linked now if only in their search for closure.
All they have now are theories.
A friend of Odin Lloyd's watches the Bandits game from a fence ringing the field. He says he knew Lloyd for a year and a half, and although not many on the team were aware of Lloyd's relationship with Hernandez, the friend says, "It wasn't a secret."
He says Lloyd had a cousin who was friends with someone Hernandez didn't like. That's when the conflict began.
How did it escalate?
"People die over stupid [expletive] all the time," says the friend, who declined to give his name. He sticks out his arm and says he was shot in the wrist once.
Was there a fight?
"There was no fight," he says. "Just went straight to shooting. I was shot at four times and hit once."
"Does anyone have a good reason to kill somebody?"
The Bandits played a game Saturday for Lloyd, and it happened to also be a game for another former player from another team who was shot to death by a policeman in New York. So this semi-pro game between the Bandits and Brockton Bucs was dedicated to two slain men: On one side, there was a team chanting "1-2-3-Odin!" and on the other side, a P.A. announcer begged the few fans on hand to donate to the fund established in the memory of a former Pace University football player named D.J. Henry.
The Bandits were exhausted. They attended a funeral that morning, and some saw their friend lying in a coffin. After the ceremony, a teammate named Wendell Delk said Odin was the loudest guy on the team, even if the Bandits were down by two touchdowns. A few hours later, the Bandits were down two touchdowns. There was no one yelling on the sideline. It was quiet.
About that time, a Bandits offensive linemen crumpled to the ground and couldn't move. There's no medical cart in semi-pro football. There's no team of EMTs or team doctors rushing out to help. There's no locker room to administer cortisone shots. Instead, the lineman's teammates all rushed to him, and five of them gingerly lifted the player up themselves. They carried him slowly off the field and lowered him back to the ground on the sideline.
A trainer came over and gently started to cut his ankle tape away. "Tell me where it hurts," he said.
"This is a group that relies on each other," says Bandits coach Olivier Bustin. "These are the real heroes of football. Some came from work before the game, some are going to work after. They inspire each other."
The Bandits came back from down two scores to tie it in the waning minutes. Their opponents had a field-goal attempt to win it, but the Bandits blocked the kick. A voice from the sideline shouted out, "O did that!"
Because of that play, the game ended 13-13. The Bandits didn't lose the game they dedicated to Odin, and the Bucs didn't lose the game dedicated to D.J.
The teams gathered at midfield and took a knee. One of the Bucs said some kind words about Lloyd and reminded the players how much they've been through together. He told everyone to go home and give a mother, a wife, a sister an extra hug tonight. He choked on his words and stopped.
The players lifted their helmets and shouted, "Odin!"
Millions of dollars are poured into the care of NFL players, and when they do something wrong, hands are wrung in the search for what should be done to prevent the next tragedy. When something happens to a semi-pro player or an immigrant soccer fan, nobody outside the community really gives a damn. Loved ones are left to tell strangers that there wasn't any drug selling, that there wasn't any gang activity.
Maybe all three deaths were somehow gang-related. Then again, maybe the only gang these Dorchester men belonged to was the gang that sat with them on the porch on sunny days; or the gang that took them to soccer games even though they didn't speak the language; or the gang from high school that made sure they brought their shoulder pads to practice; or the gang that rushed onto the field to carry away an injured teammate.
Yet in the aftermath of these deaths, in speaking to people who knew these three who they say were just trying to get by – Lloyd who didn't own a car, Abreu who lived with his mother, Furtado who worked three jobs – it becomes clear how much they really had, and how much is now lost.
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