Junior Seau death: Autopsy planned as fans, friends seek answers
An autopsy is scheduled to be performed Thursday on the body of former football star Junior Seau, who was found dead Wednesday in his Oceanside home from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot to his chest.
Though few details were available, police confirmed no foul play was suspected and that Seau's girlfriend discovered his body in bed Wednesday morning when she returned from the gym.
Some observers saw similarities between the deaths of Seau and former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest last year. In a suicide note, Duerson had asked his family to donate his brain to the Boston University School of Medicine.
Researchers from that school later determined that Duerson suffered from a neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions, and that the condition played a role in triggering his depression.
The death prompted an outpouring of tributes from friends and family.
"Junior was my friend. We all lost a friend today," Chargers President Dean Spanos said in a statement Wednesday. "Junior was an icon in our community. He transcended the game. He wasn't just a football player, he was so much more.... This is just such a tragic loss. One of the worst things I could ever imagine."
"I can tell you no one had more character and true leadership ability than Junior," Chargers Coach Norv Turner added. "He brought passion to the game of football that was unmatched. His commitment to charitable causes in the community was inspiring. It was an honor to know him."
Later in the day, as police walked in and out of Seau's beachfront home, his family members could be seen huddling in the garage, weeping. Earlier, his mother appeared distraught.
"I don't understand, I don't understand," Luisa Seau cried as she spoke to reporters and others gathered outside the home.
She said she was in church when she heard her son was dead. "I pray to God, 'Take me, take me, leave my son.' But it's too late."
Neighbor Brian Ballis, 50, of Oceanside said he would often see Seau, 43, on the balcony, or in the ocean paddle boarding or surfing. Two days ago, Ballis saw him playing the ukulele on his balcony, describing the tune as "Hawaiian-style music."
Seau was a familiar presence in the Oceanside neighborhood and could be seen running along the oceanfront street with his dog.
Kevin Hardyway, 43, of Oceanside, a construction worker, has known Seau since middle school. They met in the seventh grade and played football and basketball together at Jefferson Middle School and Oceanside High School.
He said he was originally drawn to Seau, whom he referred to affectionately as Junebug, because they shared a competitive spirit.
"He was a good guy always trying to win," Hardyway said.
Over the years, Hardyway and Seau became more distant, but whenever Seau was in town, they would try to catch up and talk about their children and sports.
“Junior’s always been in good spirits," he said. "If something is bothering him, you won't know."
Seau's life was not without complications, though. In 2010, a sport-utility vehicle he was driving went over a beachside cliff and crashed. The accident occurred after he was arrested in Oceanside on suspicion of domestic violence.
Seau, an All-American at USC and 12-time NFL Pro Bowl linebacker, played 13 seasons with the San Diego Chargers and three seasons with the Miami Dolphins. He left the game briefly but then played with the New England Patriots for four seasons before calling it quits for good after the 2009 season.
After Seau's death was announced by police Wednesday, the San Diego Chargers urged fans to pray.
"Everyone at the Chargers is in complete shock and disbelief right now," the team said in a statement. "We ask everyone to stop what they're doing and send their prayers to Junior and his family.... The outpouring of emotion is no surprise."
At USC, Seau's alma mater, Athletic Director Pat Haden called Seau "one of the greatest legends in USC football history. He will always be remembered by USC as the original No. 55."
"He was one of the greatest Trojans of all time," USC football Coach Lane Kiffin said in a statement.
Former USC football star Reggie Bush, who like Seau went to high school in the San Diego area, said on Twitter: "Damn this one hurts San Diego! One of the greatest to come from the city."
Seau, who graduated from Oceanside High as a multi-sport letterman, is a member of the high school's Hall of Fame. Officials with the Oceanside Unified School District called his death “a huge loss.”
“Today’s passing of former Oceanside High School standout Junior Seau is a huge loss for his family, the Oceanside community and our district,” district officials said in a statement. “Junior personally contributed many positive things to those residing in the North County, most particularly his alma mater, Oceanside High School."
-- Tony Perry and Nicole Santa Cruz in Oceanside
Photo: Tiaina Seau Sr. cries as he stands at a memorial of flowers and messages for his son, Junior Seau, who apparently took his own life Wednesday at his Oceanside home. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times