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Junior Seau death: Family hopes donating brain will help others

May 4, 2012 |  7:12 am

 In hopes of helping others, members of Junior Seau's family have decided to have the late football star's brain studied by doctors to see whether he suffered brain injuries.

The decision came after the San Diego County medical examiner concluded that Seau died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.

Seau, 43, a famed player at USC and for the San Diego Chargers, was found dead in bed at his Oceanside home about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday by his girlfriend. A gun was found near the body, but there was no note, officials said.

PHOTOS: Junior Seau | 1969 - 2012

Seau's parents made a tearful appearance outside his home Thursday night, thanking a crowd that had gathered, and all of the San Diego region, for showing such admiration and love for their son.

"Thank you so much," Tiaina Seau told the crowd of several hundred outside the beachfront home. "God bless you guys."

Sobbing uncontrollably, Seau's mother, Luisa, said, "There's so much pain. It's so hard."

PHOTOS: Notable deaths of 2012

They later joined the crowd in singing "Amazing Grace."

Officials said plans for memorials late next week are shaping up, at a local church and at Oceanside High School, which Junior Seau attended before enrolling at USC.

San Diego Chargers chaplain Shawn Mitchell told The Times' Sam Farmer of the decision to have Seau's brain donated for research.

"The family was considering this almost from the beginning, but they didn't want to make any emotional decisions. And when they came to a joint decision that absolutely this was the best thing, it was a natural occurrence for the Seau family to go forward."

Mitchell told Farmer that the family made the choice "to help other individuals down the road."

The issue of brain injuries among football players has been highlighted by the deaths of a number of former players at a relatively early age. Although Seau was not known publicly for having sustained concussions, that does not rule out the possibility of brain injuries incurred during his long career, medical experts said.

Researchers at Boston University, among the leaders in the study of brain injuries, have reportedly asked to examine Seau's brain.

Asked whether he had suffered concussions during his 20-year career, Seau's ex-wife, Gina, told ESPN, "Of course he had. He always bounced back and kept on playing. He's a warrior. That didn't stop him. I don't know what football player hasn't. It's not ballet. It's part of the game."

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, 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: "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."

The "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."


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Seau's death mourned by Chargers, local high school

Junior Seau sent texts to ex-wife, kids before killing himself

-- Tony Perry in San Diego and Rick Rojas in Oceanside

Photo: Ted Dalsey, left, pays his respects at a memorial outside of Junior Seau's beach home in Oceanside. Credit: Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images