Former All-Pro linebacker Junior Seau died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest, Oceanside (Calif.) police told reporters outside his home Wednesday.
“Mr. Seau has deceased,” Oceanside police chief Frank McCoy said during a news conference. “This case, at this point, is being investigated as a suicide, and a handgun was found by the body."
Police responded to Seau’s home after a woman who identified herself as his girlfriend alerted police around 9:30 a.m. PT. Emergency workers were unable to resuscitate Seau, who was found in a bedroom.
Seau was 43.
He played for three teams in his 20 NFL seasons — the San Diego Chargers (1990-2002), Miami Dolphins (2003-05) and New England Patriots (2006-09).
"Everyone at the Chargers is in complete shock and disbelief right now,” the Chargers organization said in a statement. “We ask everyone to stop what they're doing and send their prayers to Junior and his family."
Seau made headlines in October 2010 when he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and drove his car off a cliff in nearby Carlsbad after he was released from jail. Seau suffered minor injuries in the accident. He explained that he fell asleep at the wheel and the accident wasn’t a suicide attempt.
It was an emotional scene outside Seau’s residence as friends and family members gathered. His mother, Luisa Seau, wept as she spoke to reporters. She appeared in disbelief that Seau would have killed himself.
”I don’t understand who did this to my son,” Luisa Seau said. “I pray to God, please take me. Take me! Leave my son, but it’s too late. It’s too late . . . I don’t know what I’m going to do. God give me the power.”
Through tears, Louisa Seau mentioned she had spoken with her son as recently as Tuesday and he seemed OK.
“My brother was a loving brother,” Junior Seau’s sister, Annette, told reporters as she asked for privacy as the family grieved. “He was a caring citizen.”
Before the Chargers made him the No. 5 overall selection in the 1990 NFL Draft, Seau was an All-American at the University of Southern California. Those in the Trojans program were as shaken as many of his former NFL colleagues.
"This is a very sad day,” USC head coach Lane Kiffin said in a statement. “The USC football program and the entire Trojan Family extends our condolences to Junior's family. He was one of the greatest Trojans of all time. Our team and fans were very fortunate to see him just a couple of weeks ago at our spring game at the (Los Angeles) Coliseum. He will be deeply missed."
The Patriots, where Seau ended his 20-season NFL career in 2009, said in a statement they were “shocked” about Wednesday’s developments.
“We were fortunate to have had Junior join the Patriots in 2006 and are thankful for his many contributions to the team over the next four years,” the Patriots said. “He had a legendary NFL career, and his unrivaled passion for the game quickly made him a fan favorite here in New England. This is a sad day for the entire Patriots organization, our coaches and his many Patriots teammates. Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to his family and his many friends who will mourn this loss.”
Chargers head coach Norv Turner worked with Seau in San Diego and Miami.
"I have no words to describe the passing of Junior Seau," Turner said. "It is a sad, sad day not only for me but for the whole sports community. . . . I can tell you no one had more character and true leadership ability than Junior. 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. My thoughts and prayers are with his family."
Seau's death could lead to further discussion about the impact of concussions and other head trauma. The hard-charging linebacker was known more for giving concussions to the likes of Joe Montana, Boomer Esiason and other opponents during his career than incurring them. Seau didn’t appear to have a history of concussions, although players — especially in the era in which he played — were hesitant to report such injuries.
Recent findings from head trauma researchers, however, have shown that repeated smaller impacts to the head can result in long-term damage.
Several former NFL players have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease discovered by Boston University researchers from examining the brains of deceased athletes. Those who suffer from CTE — which currently can be diagnosed only postmortem — can suffer from depression, the loss of impulse control, memory loss and, in late stages, dementia.
It’s not known whether Seau had agreed to donate his brain to Boston University, as a growing number of former athletes have done. It didn't appear Seau had joined the more than 1,200 players who are suing the NFL over head injuries.
If his death is ruled a suicide, Seau would be the second former player in less than two weeks to kill himself. Former Atlanta Falcons defensive back Ray Easterling shot himself in his Richmond, Va., home on April 19. Easterling, 62, had suffered from depression and insomnia for years and was one of the first players to sue the league over concussions.